Lori Cundari qualified for the Boston Marathon back in December 2011, after undertaking a new fitness challenge to celebrate her 50th birthday.
And on Monday, the Lockeford resident completed the famed race in 3 hours and 59 minutes, running with her name written on her arm so spectators could cheer.
But just minutes after finishing with her pace partner, a thrilling day of celebration turned into fear and chaos.
She crossed the finish line when the marathon clock showed 4:02.
The pair of explosions went off at around the 4:09 mark, with Cundari still near the finish line. She and her husband Dave, who was just a few blocks away, were unharmed during an event that left over 140 people injured.
“It was right there,” said Cundari, 51, calmly but vividly telling her account from a Boston hotel on Monday evening. “It was real close (to the finish line).”
Dave Cundari normally surprises his wife at the finish line after races, but on Monday in Boston, he was among thousands of people at the marathon’s waiting area, a few blocks away. He said everyone around him heard the explosions go off.
“We all stopped and thought, ‘What was that?’” Dave said, calling from the hotel. “People didn’t understand what the situation was.”
Through AT&T phone alerts, he and other family members had been able to track Lori’s progress during the marathon. Right after she finished, Dave got a “Great job, Mom” text from Lori’s youngest son, Zach.
He responded back, saying, “She did it.”
That was the last conversation they would have until Dave reunited with his wife, 20 or 25 minutes after the explosions went off. He could not send out calls or texts because cell service was down, but he was able to receive a call through the sporadic service from Zach.
Dave informed him that he and Lori were unhurt, and told him to let the rest of the family know they were alright. Dave was also able to reach another family member and two more friends.
From there, Lori, Dave and two other runners in her group walked about a mile and a half to a hotel — making their way through a whirlwind of ambulances, fire trucks, police vehicles, bumper-to-bumper traffic heading out of the city and densely packed sidewalks.
Along the way, they heard the third explosion from the JFK Library, which police believe was caused by a mechanical fire unrelated to the bombings.
“Chaos, chaos, constant chaos,” Lori Cundari said. “It was just total screaming. It’s just crazy. They wanted everybody out. There was constant worry.”
Dave Cundari said the scene brought back images of people rushing around New York during the 9/11 attacks.
“There were tens of thousands of people (in Boston), so it adds to the chaos. So many people (were) just wanting to get out of the area,” he said. “It’s a scary feeling, a situation like this, to be clear on the other side of the country from where you live and not being able to leave.”
Lori Cundari called the walk to their hotel “grueling.”
Her husband had brought warm clothes for her to wear, but she was still freezing in the Boston cold, her feet and shoes covered in blood from the impact of running 26.2 miles.
“It’s not fun. Only dummies run marathons,” she said, managing to find levity in the situation. “I guess I shouldn’t complain at all. I’m alive. I’m grateful for our blessings.”
She and her husband spent their time at the hotel answering the dozens of texts and phone calls from friends and family. Lori Cundari’s two sons, Zach, 29, and Scott, 31, and Dave Cundari’s children, Cecily, 22, and Gregory, 27, are all Lodi residents.
The Cundaris had originally planned to take Amtrak to visit Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. How soon the security situation and transportation stabilize will likely affect those plans. Though the entire day’s events were traumatic and overwhelming, they said they were continually watching the news for more information.
“I do want to know what’s going on,” Dave Cundari said. “It’s hard to understand why people would want to kill innocent people.”
Four other Lodi-area residents who had qualified in past Boston Marathons — Rodger Robinson, Sarah Takahashi, Joe Barber and Sally Majidian — weren’t listed on this year’s log of competitors.
Contacted by phone in Lodi, Barber said he doubts that he would have been harmed, mainly because he is too slow, he said. Barber said he believes that he would have been ushered away from the course when the second bomb exploded.
Mark Ghilarducci, the Secretary of the California Emergency Management Agency, said in an email to the media that the Boston Marathon tragedy is a good wake-up call about reporting to authorities any suspicious activity.
“If you see something, say something,” Ghilarducci said. “Reporting suspicious activity to your local law enforcement agency may be all it takes to keep people out of harm’s way.”
Ghilarducci said that he has directed the State Threat Assessment Center in Sacramento to work with the five regional intelligence centers in California to continue to look for any threats that might emerge. The regional centers are in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.
For more information, visit www.bit.ly/calema-prevent.