Six Months After the Storm, Runners in Joplin Get Back on Their Feet | KBIA

Six Months After the Storm, Runners in Joplin Get Back on Their Feet

Nov 15, 2011

Six months ago, an EF5 tornado plowed through the center of Joplin, leaving about one-fifth of the city's population without a home. Now, people are slowly getting back to normal. For some, normal means lacing up the running shoes and hitting the streets.

In this week's Health & Wealth report, the story of two local runners who survived the tornado as it flattened their homes. Travis Keller and his family (wife, three boys, two dogs) huddled in the bathtub as the tornado slammed into their house. The bathroom was the only room left standing, and all seven were unharmed.

Adam Bennett and his wife lived just a few blocks away. But when the storm hit their house, it picked up everything, from underneath the floorboards. Adam and his wife landed about 50 feet away, under a fallen tree in their neighbor's backyard.

Both men used to run nearly every day. Adam had run 15 miles the morning of the tornado, and about 60 miles that week. Travis would run between five and seven miles most mornings.

Running is about routine. It's about building up mileage, it's about favorite running routes. But all this was gone after the storm. Old routes were impassible from debris. Street signs and landmarks were gone. As were the very basics, like running shoes and shorts.

Travis didn't start running again for two months, he was so busy piecing back together the bits of life scattered by the storm. He found a shovel a block away. His son's basketball hoop. Family photos, covered with mud. But once he made time to put on a new pair of running shoes (donated thanks to the local running store), it was "like throwing that monkey off your back, and running away from it." The monkey being the trauma of recovering from the disaster.

Adam Bennett was left with a compound fracture in his right leg, broken ribs, and a bruised lung. Would he ever run again? The question was racing through his mind as he waited outside the operating room hours after the tornado. His dad asked the doctor for him: "You know, he's not going to ask you, but is he going to be able to run again?"

The answer was yes. But it's been a long and slow recovery. Adam had qualified for the two most competitive marathons in the country just months before the storm. He was registered to run in the New York marathon in November. Now he can run just a few miles at a time. But he's building up miles each week.

Travis now leads a regular running group, and its numbers are swelling as people get back to normal. In October, he also helped organize the city's second annual Mother Road Marathon, along historic Route 66. 

Ruth Sawkins, another organizer, says holding events like this helps the community move on. "Since marathons bring in a lot of people from out of town, it shows people outside our community we are moving forward, and we haven't forgotten about the tornado, but we're not going to let it define everything we are."

The race attracted 600 runners, from 25 states and six countries.