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Community support fueling Nicole Gross’s recovery

By Théoden Janes
tjanes@charlotteobserver.com

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  • To support the Gross family

    Be Strong Stay Strong Benefit: 6-9 p.m. Wednesday at the Charlotte City Club, 121 W. Trade St. Tickets are $100, and include heavy hors d’oeuvres, drinks, music, and a silent auction. Details: http://bit.ly/12ZLVro.

    Be Strong Beat Down: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. June 29 at Total Cyclist, 601 S. Kings Drive. Olympic and professional athletes will lead cycling, running, strength training, yoga and plyometrics sessions. $100, includes food and drink. Details: http://on.fb.me/16R9gfL.

    Other donations: www.bestrongstaystrong.net.



Nicole and Michael Gross’s lives are now consumed by rehabilitation in all its various forms.

There are doctor’s appointments and physical therapy sessions for Nicole, who suffered two broken bones in her left leg, a nearly severed Achilles tendon in her right and hearing loss in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings. There’s paperwork, whether it’s submitting a claim for a payout from One Fund Boston (for victims and families) or filling out forms to get belongings back from the FBI.

But the couple has also been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received from people in Charlotte. Hundreds of donors, races, parties and other events have contributed to the Be Strong Stay Strong Fund, created by friends just days after the marathon to raise money for the Grosses and her sister, Erika Brannock, also hurt badly by the blast.

So Nicole and Michael Gross summoned the media to the Charlotte City Club on Friday afternoon to deliver a simple message to their supporters: Thanks.

“It’s just overwhelming to know that it’s being done for us,” said Michael Gross, seated next to Nicole in a room overlooking the skyline from the club’s 32nd floor. “ ‘Thank you’ just doesn’t cut it for us. Unfortunately, all we’ve got is the ability to say that to people, and that’s why we want to take all of these opportunities to make sure that people do really, truly understand how much their support does help.”

The Grosses will return to the City Club Wednesday for a benefit that will mark one of their first local public appearances since the marathon. Both plan to speak at the event.

On Friday, Nicole Gross was noticeably more mobile than she was when she came off the plane in Charlotte after returning from Boston four weeks ago. She left her crutches leaning against a wall several yards away as she stood by the windows posing for photographs.

“There’s a lot more time that I’m off the crutches (around) in the house. ... It’s a huge step in the right direction of having some more independence,” said Gross, 31. “When I can break free from the crutches, it’s a good feeling.”

Gross, a personal trainer who was a swimmer at the University of Tennessee and is an accomplished triathlete, said she occasionally overdoes it. When that happens, she’s “kind of had to back it down, and remember what I’ve been through – that it’s not a running injury I’m recovering from.”

She faces three more surgeries this summer: on her Achilles, on her ear and on her ankle, a reconstructive procedure known as “debulking.”

“But that’s why I’m working so hard to be stronger in physical therapy, just really being aggressive with gaining that strength,” Gross said. “Because I definitely plan to be off crutches, very soon. As soon as I can after these surgeries.”

Gross said her sister, Brannock – whose left leg was amputated above the knee as a result of her injuries – is “making progress ... she’s good, she’s great.” The 29-year-old preschool teacher moved into their mother’s home in Monkton, Md., after being released from the hospital this week.

The sisters were waiting for their mother, Carol Downing, to finish the marathon when shrapnel from the first of the two blasts ripped through their legs; the bombings killed three and wounded more than 200. Michael Gross sustained cuts, bruises and burns.

They have been reluctant to talk about the day of the race. But they say the emotional healing is in progress.

“People say, ‘Oh man, I can’t believe you guys are so positive,’ ” Michael Gross said. “It’s because when I look behind me, I see all of Charlotte standing there. That’s what really enables me and Nicole and our families to keep on doing what we’re doing and doing it in a positive manner.”

Nicole Gross adds that she and Michael are now dedicated to being examples of strength and perseverance – to using their lives to define those words. “We feel a sense of responsibility after all this ... to be positive role models.”

Janes: 704-358-5897
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