For Roseann Sdoia, April 15, 2013 started off like any other day. She didn’t wake up anticipating the loss of her leg near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, nor did she expect to meet the love of her life—a firefighter named Mike Materia, who would later transport her to the hospital as the harrowing emergency unfolded.
“I recall pretty much everything in the sense of what I did in the morning,” Sdoia tells The Knot in an exclusive interview. “Going to meet my friends… and kind of running into the explosion so to say.” A long distance runner herself, Sdoia distinctively remembers seeing two bright flashes of light near her feet—“That’s when the bomb went off,” she notes— and a college student running over to help. “I remember people around me… There was a police officer, and there was a doctor on my other side. I knew there were other people there.”
Her future fiance, meanwhile, was nearby helping others impacted by the homemade bombs, which ultimately claimed three lives and resulted in hundreds of injuries. “Ambulances kept going by and they were all full, so a police transport vehicle had pulled up,” Sdoia says. “At that same time, Mike had gotten there. They said, ‘Load her in.’”
He didn’t leave her side. “He just picked up the head of the board and put me into the vehicle. I had kept my eyes closed because I knew something bad had happened and I knew that I didn’t want to see anything,” she tells The Knot. “I didn’t fully see him. I never really saw his face. Once they shut the door to the wagon, it was pitch black in there. I didn’t really know anything.”
Days passed and Sdoia was one of the 16 people to sustain the loss of a limb. “I didn’t really know what had happened,” she shares. “And I couldn’t understand [why people] were coming to visit.” Among those visitors was Materia, who repeatedly came to the hospital to check up on the patient.
“I couldn’t understand why he was there,” she admits. “But prior to that, my mom was like, ‘The firefighter’s so cute. He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t like you.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, mom. I was just blown up.’” Her mother wasn’t the only one to notice. “A lot of my friends were like, ‘He’s cute!’” she adds. “They immediately went to look him up on Facebook, and to see what his story was.”
At first, Sdoia admittedly found it strange. “A week or two after what had happened, he still came around. He made friends with my family. He made friends with my friends.”
Then, the two started spending quality time together. Materia offered to take Sdoia to follow-up appointments especially as she interviewed for a prosthetic. “We went to the first prosthesis [interview] together. After we went to the first one, I was like, ‘I think you need to come to the others with me.’ It’s good to have two people analyzing the situation,’” she shares with a laugh. “We would drive there, have lunch… and that’s when we really got to know each other. That’s when I got to know who he was and how great of a person he was. That’s when my attraction started.”
Sdoia says she initially noticed a few standout qualities. “He was very thoughtful, very kind and very handsome. Just a good person,” she expresses.
Two months later, Sdoia was interviewed about the bombing aftermath and the reporter—who suspected a romance was blossoming between Sdoia and Materia—spoke to the firefighter as well. “The next day, we had gone on an appointment and I was like, ‘So, the People interview… what did you say?’ And he was like, ‘What did you say?’” she recalls. “I think we were both concerned… We had feelings for each other, but we didn’t want to ruin our friendship. But we talked about it, and said, ‘If it doesn’t work out, let’s promise to be friends.’”
They remained friends… and got engaged after more than three years of dating. “I knew it would happen,” Sdoia says of a proposal. “I thought maybe Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day or my birthday.” Instead, Materia chose Nantucket during a random winter weekend.
The couple, who went on their first solo vacation to the famed New England island in July 2013, ended up running into a few friends randomly that Friday night. “One volunteers at the Whaling Museum,” Sdoia notes. “She said she could give a private tour.” While Sdoia excused herself from the conversation to the ladies room, Materia schemed with the museum volunteer to orchestrate the perfect proposal.
His plan, though, was nearly foiled Sunday morning when his alarm went off early, which Sdoia found strange. Still, she shrugged it off and went back to sleep. A few hours later, the couple ended up at the museum for their private tour, when Materia wandered off to the observation deck. “You can see him around the corner kneeling down and doing something,” she says. Sdoia walked over and that’s when Materia popped the question.
“He stood up and we looked out at the water. He was nervous, and then he asked me,” she shares. “He was down on his knee handing me the ring. It couldn’t have been more perfect… Nantucket is special to me. Special to us. It was the first place we had gone together.”
The two plan to marry this fall in a New England wedding. “We were thinking October-November. There are a few minor stipulations. We don’t want to get married Halloween weekend,” jokes the future bride. Along with their upcoming nuptials, the two are focusing on the release of their new book entitled, Perfect Strangers: Friendship, Strength, and Recovery After Boston’s Worst Day (on stands now).
“Everybody’s got a story, but this one’s a little different,” she concludes to The Knot. “I felt safe with Mike around. I felt like he took care of me that day getting me to the hospital. And then, with him being around, there was a serene feeling about it. A safe feeling with him there and it was just more than [the fact] that he was a fireman.”