With the President of the United States as a registered guest at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú on Friday night, the scene in the lobby was one of unordinary sightings.
When the massive presidential motorcade roared in around 9:30 p.m., Secret Service agents spilled out of vans toting assault rifles, hoards of hulking security personnel surrounded the front entrance, and what appeared to be the entire hotel staff scurried around to usher the distinguished guests to their rooms.
Yet, amid the presidential buzz, a familiar face – one that dominated international news reports last month – silently stole the spotlight as he sipped a beer near the lobby bar.
Donning his famed folded cowboy hat, and with wide eyes and long curly locks, Carlos Arredondo – the Costa Rican who achieved hero status for his efforts to save injured victims of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings – sat patiently in the lobby.
A now-famous photo of Arredondo taken as he assisted wounded runner Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the bombing, has since emerged as the international image of heroism amid the tragedy of that day.
Arredondo, who said he shook hands with U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Boston in the days following the bombings, was in town over the weekend to meet with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla. That meeting took place Thursday. His next goal was to speak with Obama to promote Boston Samaritans, a suicide prevention organization, and to lobby for more support for U.S. military veterans.
Early Saturday morning, Arredondo – covered in silver body paint – was seen standing on a chair in San José’s Plaza de la Democracia, being photographed for a year-end “People of the Year” issue by the daily La Nación.
Arredondo sat down with The Tico Times on Friday to discuss his human rights work, his colorful history, and how the Boston Marathon bombing changed his life forever.
TT: How does it feel to be referred to as a hero?
CA: (laughs) Well, I don’t consider myself a hero. I did what anyone else would have done in that situation. I thank God that I wasn’t injured and was able to help out those that were as quickly as possible. Anyone in that situation, looking at all the injured people lying on the
ground, would have done the same thing I did.
What was it like to be in Boston on the day of the bombings?
It was a horrible tragedy. We were there very early in the morning giving U.S. flags to people there and supporting the soldiers and veterans that were running. After the bomb exploded, I just reacted as quickly as I could to get to where it went off to help anyone I could find
that was injured. It was a very dramatic experience. So many people lost legs and 280 people were injured. After the sound of the bomb, there was a ball of fire and afterwards smoke. All the people that were standing in the area where the bomb went off were no longer
there. Almost all of them were on the ground injured.
In the picture of you from the marathon, you were helping a man after he was wounded in the bombings. I read that you have remained in contact with him.
The young man I helped is Jeff Bauman. He is 27 years old and from Massachusetts. He is now stable. He lost both legs and suffered second and third-degree burns on his body. But, thanks to God, he has healed quite quickly. Jeff remains in high spirits and is feeling better. I
have gone to see him four times in the hospital and we talk quite a bit by email. I am hoping that soon he will come to visit Costa Rica.
How has your life changed since that day?
My life has changed completely. I am now very concentrated in working to spread the word about some serious problems in the U.S. In the U.S., we lose 22 veterans a day due to suicide. It is a grave crisis and we are trying to combine an organization called Samaritans of
Boston, which works to prevent suicide, with the Veteran’s Hospital. The reason I am doing that is because my youngest son committed suicide. Currently we are working with other organizations and are in conversations with the U.S. Congress to provide better benefits to U.S.
veterans and their families.
Your cowboy hat is now famous from the picture of you on the day of the bombings. Will you continue to wear it?
I always wear cowboy hats and have about 10 of them that I wear for work and going out. Actually, while living here in Costa Rica, I was a rodeo clown at the annual bullfights in Zapote [a southeastern district of San José].
Yes, my nickname as a rodeo clown was “El Gringo” because I was always dressed in an American football jersey when running with the bulls. I wore a Philadelphia Eagles jersey and for many years people knew me as El Gringo. I used to wear a bulletproof vest when running
with the bulls and now lots of Costa Rican rodeo clowns do as well.
You are also known for another episode in Florida when your son passed away, correct?
Yes. When my son died I almost killed myself. I set fire to my van and burned 26 percent of my body in second- and third-degree burns. I really don’t know what happened. It was my birthday, August 25, 2004, when my son died. I tried to kill myself, but I survived. Only
God knows why.
What are your plans now and for the future?
Well, I want to see what happens with [Boston bombing victim] Jeff Bauman and remain in contact with him. I hope he can come to Costa Rica. Also, I am focusing on spreading awareness about suicide prevention and continuing to work with veterans.
How has Boston changed since that day?
It was in such a state of shock those days after the marathon. Everything stopped. In time, Boston has returned to somewhat of a state of normalcy. The streets and businesses are back open and the city is functioning as it did prior to the marathon, though the people are still
dealing with the residual trauma. There is still grieving, though the city is priding itself on being strong. It will require a lot of time and psychological support to overcome that day.