Illini Wheelchair Track Team returns home

CHAMPAIGN -- It's a sight we've only seen on TV, but for racers in the UI Wheelchair Track Team, they saw it firsthand. Investigators are still piecing together what happened at the Boston Marathon. Two bombs went off near the finish line killing three and injuring nearly 200. WCIA-3's Erica Quednau spoke with some UI racers who returned home Tuesday.

They're relieved to be home. The Wheelchair Track Team returned about 3 am, nearly 24-hours after their day started.

"I heard a couple very loud booms, and I didn't know what it was."

But soon, reports on TV gave Rob Kozarek a better picture.

"My sister and I were very worried because that's where my family was. They were very close to Copely Square."

So they headed into the chaos.

"We were met by just hundreds and thousands of people streaming away from the square. People were crying. You could smell sulfur in the air. We had no idea what was going on, whether it was an accident, whether it was intentional. Really, once we found out more about it, it became even scarier."

Kozarek met up with his family at the hotel and once he realized they were OK, his attention turned to his UI family.

"We are like family and it was very nerve wracking because we had people in the lobby, we had people in the award ceremony."

Emotions were calmed as soon as Coach Adam Bleakney arrived.

"Being around someone like Adam was very important for us just because we trust him."

"I think when you have a goal and a focus to make sure everyone is safe, then that's what you're keyed in on. You don't necessarily have time to think about a lot of other things."

Their thoughts now? Onto the next race.

"I think that's the consensus among all the participants is they'll continue to marathon and run and participate."

"Whoever did this, what they wanted to do was to disrupt a very beautiful event that's surrounded by goodwill. If we as a team decide not to go back to Boston, then that is exactly what they want."

The Illini's day in Boston started off positive. Tatyana McFadden placed first in the wheelchair division. She's only the fourth Illini to do so in school history. It hasn't happened since 2003. Amanda McGory placed third. Shortly after all that, the entire team crossed the finish line, hours before the explosions. 

Community Blood Services is doing its part to help after Monday's tragedy. A spokesperson says they sent some O-negative blood to the Boston area. It's a rare type they already had in stock. Officials say this is a great example of why people should continue to donate regularly.

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