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Jeff Bauman is the real marathon man behind 'Stronger'

Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman walks down Boylston Street in Boston near the marathon finish line on the two-year anniversary of the bombings on April 15, 2005. The movie "Stronger," released on Sept. 22, is based on the 31-year-old’s book with the same name about losing his legs as a result of the bombing.

NICOLAUS CZARNECKI, ZUMA PRESS/TNS

By AMY KAUFMAN | Los Angeles Times | Published: September 11, 2017

CONCORD, Mass. -- After Jeff Bauman watched "Stronger" for the first time, he wasn’t sure how he felt. He was hot, that was for certain; he couldn’t stop sweating. He just wanted to go home and sleep.

So that’s what he did. But when he woke up the following morning, he was still having trouble accepting the depiction of himself in the film. The movie, opening Sept. 22 and based on the 31-year-old’s own book about losing his legs as a result of the Boston Marathon bombing, didn’t shy away from Bauman’s struggles. Directed by David Gordon Green, the story reveals how Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) turned up at the 2013 race to prove his faith in his relationship with his girlfriend, Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany).

Things between the couple had been rocky for a while, and only got more difficult after Bauman became an amputee. Hurley was dealing with immense guilt over the fact that he had been at the marathon to watch her run; he was was trying to numb the pressure of becoming a symbol of "Boston Strong" through partying.

Suffice it to say, reliving this on the big screen wasn’t easy for either of them. Earlier this summer, when they watched the movie for the first time, they spent the majority of it bawling.

"At first, I was like, ’That how Dave and Jake see me? Like a piece of work?’" Bauman recalled. "It portrayed me partying and drinking and not showing up for therapy once a week when I should have been there three times a week. That’s real. I was lost going through this. He got me totally right. But was hard to face it and see that other people saw that."

Especially since now, four years after the terrorist attack, Bauman is in a much better place. He drove himself to an interview at a colonial inn near his home; he has an app on his phone that programs his prosthetics and allows him to use his truck without hand controls (it’s a prototype he’s testing). He’s gotten so into the technology behind his new legs that he’s going to school for mechanical engineering with the hopes of working for a prosthetics company one day.

Though he was anti-therapy for years -- he thought it was a "pseudo-science" -- he now sees a psychologist three times a week. He’s been sober for 13 months. And while he and Hurley are no longer together, they have a 3-year-old daughter, Nora, who they share joint custody of.

Plus, he’s found a new confidante in Gyllenhaal, whom his Boston buddies jokingly refer to as his boyfriend. The two got close during filming, as Bauman opened up to the actor about his recovery process.

"He got obsessed," Bauman said. "We first met in the middle of winter, and he watched me walk on the ice. He was asking me a million questions: ’How do you take off your legs? How do you transfer? If you were to fall, how would you get up?’ And I wanted to share my feelings and how I felt about everything -- the whole spectrum of me."

Though he’s come a long way, Bauman still, of course, grapples with the bombing -- and his breakup with Hurley. Sometimes, when he’s feeling particularly depressed about "relationship stuff," he touches base with Gyllenhaal.

"I’ll say 'I’m really down’ and he’ll call me," Bauman said. "We’ll talk, and he’ll give me some positive info and just remind me that I have to focus on myself and making me a better person."

Seeing the movie, he acknowledged, brought those dark feelings back to the surface. "But it also made me realize a couple days later: Look at me now. I’m doing great, and I just gotta keep going."

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