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Boston Marathon Bombing Survivor Dave Fortier '87/G'96 Channels Tragedy into Change

By Kenneth Stratton '19 FRIDAY, APRIL 5, 2019 - 12:05 PM Alumni

Running down Boylston Street in support of a friend suffering from leukemia, exhausted but determined to complete the Boston Marathon, Dave Fortier ’87/G’96 was about 10 yards away from the finish line when terror struck and his life was changed forever.

Fortier vividly recalls the heat of the blasts, the sound wave, the shrapnel and resulting concussion from the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013.

The support Fortier and fellow survivors received in the following weeks would inspire him to create his own non-profit, One World Strong Foundation, dedicated to establishing an international support network for survivors of violent extremism. The path he’s on today is not the one he started on, but everything he’s learned, starting at Western New England University, has helped him along the way.

“Western New England offered everything I was looking for,” Fortier said, recounting his decision to become a Golden Bear. “The business side of things, the small campus, nice people – probably a lot of the things people still look for there,” he said.

Fortier was a student athlete, studying Business Management while playing baseball and football his first year, before deciding to focus on baseball. Even in his early days, an entrepreneurial spirit was bubbling beneath the surface and his commitment to building relationships through sport was clear.

Fortier landed a job out of college with Nabisco, thanks to an internship he had while a student. He would return to the University later in the weekend MBA program, and earning that degree in 1996.

From Nabisco, Fortier would join GKN Brambles, a British shipping company, then later join a consulting company in Boston. Out of that experience would come the desire to start his own consulting company, Merrimack Global Partners, though today his work is focused on One World Strong.

“It’s something that I never thought I would do… I never thought I would be in the non-profit world,” Fortier admitted. “I’ve been learning as I go,” he added, saying “I actually attribute a lot of it to Western New England.”

Fortier explained that he credits his ability to think and learn through experience to Western New England because of the personal, hands on approach at the University.

Fortier says that his physical injuries from the bombing weren’t severe, but it’s what he saw – both in the horror of that day, and the outpouring of support in the following weeks - that affected him most.

The Semper Fi Fund, a group of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, visited hospitals and rehab centers in the days following the bombing. They made it clear to survivors that they would always be available for support, and to Fortier, lasting connections like these proved to be the most comforting.

Soon Fortier went looking for similar organizations, focused on connecting survivors of violent extremism across borders, regardless of religion, race and politics. Coming up empty in his search, Fortier made a decision: “let’s go build one!”

“We’re not nurses, we’re not doctors, we’re not therapists,” Fortier said of One World Strong. “We’re simply people that have experienced something similar,” he added.

Fortier explained that a point in the healing process is reaching out and helping others. It is his hope that One World Strong will continue to be a foundation where people can help others heal, and in turn be healed themselves.

Since its founding in 2015, One World Strong has visited survivors of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, and the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, among others. The foundation’s work has touched six different continents, connecting with survivors in Somalia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and elsewhere.

To Fortier, western media favors coverage of attacks in western countries, at the expense of other places around the world. And citing the 2018 Parkland, Florida shooting, he believes that even when attacks happen in the United States, survivors are often forgotten about when the news cycle moves on.

“You thought you were the center and you were for a while… but that’s what One World is about… we’re gonna be there in the long term,” Fortier said. Promising that his foundation is about more than a selfie and empty wishes of “good luck,” Fortier says One World Strong is about telling stories, making connections, and trying to prevent that feeling of abandonment or isolation that can breed extremism.

This year, Fortier has helped launch One World Marathon. The event is a virtual global marathon, where teams of participants combine their efforts to achieve a total of 26.2 miles over a four day weekend, coinciding with the start of the Run Jordan Dead Sea Ultra Marathon and ending with the completion of the Boston Marathon.

“We don’t care if you run, walk or crawl,” Fortier laughed. “It’s just a way for people to come together using sport,” he explained, hoping also, that participants will use social media to share their stories and encourage positivity.

When Fortier’s not busy running One World Strong, he stays connected with his former classmates from Western New England and spends time with his family. The path he finds himself on today might not have been the one he started on, but he hopes the global survivor base he’s built along the way will make a difference in the world.

“I go to bed at night excited about what had transpired and looking forward to the next day, and I can’t say it’s always been that way,” Fortier explained. “Now it is, and I’m very grateful for it,” he concluded.