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Kali Cika of Old Lyme ran in the 2013 Boston Marathon and finished only 30 minutes before the deadly bombs went off near the finish line. As harrowing as it was, the tragic event didn't stop the University of Connecticut junior from running in the 2014 race on April 21.
Cika began running during her senior year at Lyme-Old Lyme High School, starting with half marathons. The 2013 Boston Marathon was her second full marathon,and this year's Boston Marathon was her fifth. In between she ran races in Hartford, Maryland and Florida.
Cika explains that her mother and aunt were watching the 2013 Boston Marathon from a popular spot - Heartbreak Hill - and her uncle came to pick her up at the finish line. With a running time of 3 hours and 20 minutes she finished a half hour before the bombs detonated and was already back at her relatives' house in Hotkinton, Mass.
"When I got back to the house I had received multiple texts to see if I was OK. I was confused, and then we turned on the TV and saw that there was a bomb," she recalls. "I was shocked and upset. I was just there 30 minutes ago and everything was normal and then suddenly it was completely different. I couldn't reach my friends who were watching the race to see if they were OK because all the lines were down. Luckily, they had left 10 minutes before."
Cika says that although she eventually got up the courage to continue racing, she was nervous about running in subsequent events for awhile.
"A lot of the races were scary at first. But I wasn't scared at all before this year's Boston Marathon," she says. "I was really excited to run. They were telling us for awhile that security would be very tight and that was reassuring."
Although her time - just under four hours - wasn't her best, Cika says this year's Boston Marathon is one of her favorite races.
"There were over a million spectators at this year's race - more spectators than ever - and 10 percent more runners," Cika notes. "With the whole 'Boston Strong' posters and mentality, you could feel the support from everybody. It was a very cool experience.
"Even though I wasn't feeling well and didn't do as well as last year, the spectators made it easier to go on and even though I was cramping and in pain, I never stopped."
Cika says she was concerned that the beefed-up security might diminish morale at the race, but other than bag checks and the invitations required to be near the finish line, she found the mood happy and light - thanks in part to race volunteers.
"I'd like to give a shout-out to the volunteers," she says. "They're really amazing and pretty much make the race happen."
Cika thinks this year's race was a solidifying event that showed the strength of everyone who attended.
"A totally happy vibe describes the day and the race," she says. "It was a beautiful day with perfect conditions, and I think people really enjoyed being there - not only the runners but the spectators."