Marathon Gets Tornado-Hit Town Back On Its Feet

Runners across the country are converging in Joplin, Mo., for the city's second annual marathon on Sunday. Last spring's tornado devastated the town, and locals hope the race helps them carry on. Jacob Fenston of member station KBIA reports.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Joplin, Missouri, runners are gearing up for the city's marathon tomorrow. Some local runners say they have a goal to help them carry on, after they lost everything in last May's devastating tornado.

From member station KBIA, reporter Jacob Fenston joined a few runners training for the race.

JACOB FENSTON, BYLINE: Its 5:30 in morning, pitch-black out as a dozen members of the Joplin Road Runners head down Main Street. It's actually the first week the street lights are back on since the tornado struck four months ago.

Ciri Corbin is just getting into her pace.

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CIRI CORBIN: Well, I'm slower than the rest of them, but good.

FENSTON: Corbin is a nurse at Freeman. That's the one hospital that wasn't destroyed by the tornado. She was working in the E.R. that night.

CORBIN: It was a lot like a war zone. I can't imagine a war zone being any different.

FENSTON: For weeks it was like that at work. She thought about going on anti-depressants. But instead, took up running for the first time.

CORBIN: And we have a lot to escape from around here.

FENSTON: About one-fifth of the city's population was displaced after the tornado. Now, though most of the debris is gone, people are just starting to rebuild their lives. For runners, that means a training routine.

Travis Keller, who leads the local running group, says he didn't even think about running for two months, he was so busy picking up the pieces of his life.

TRAVIS KELLER: I felt selfish if I was out there doing it, because there was stuff I could have been doing here at the lot, or at the house, or helping my wife clean up the pictures, or try to wash some clothes or whatever we could do.

FENSTON: We're standing in an empty field. Keller's house used to be there. All that's left now are a few bricks and a scraggly shrub. A few blocks away, another runner, Adam Bennett, walks me around the concrete foundation of his old house. He still has a slight limp.

ADAM BENNETT: There was nothing here worth finding. Occasionally, for a while, we would come across a running medal or two.

FENSTON: Bennett was a fast runner ever since he was a kid on the track team; even got a track scholarship to college. But the tornado changed that. The storm threw him about 50 feet, from inside his house into a neighbor's backyard. His leg was badly broken. Now, Bennett is slowly recovering and runs a few painful miles each week, but he says it's frustrating he can't just hit the trail after work.

BENNETT: I did it every day. And, you know, it becomes kind of, I guess, part of you.

FENSTON: Bennett won't be running the Joplin marathon tomorrow. Instead, he'll be in the crowd, cheering on his pals. Some 500 runners are signed up this year. As with any marathon, organizers hope this one will put head in beds - drawing tourists to local businesses, some 500 of which were damaged by the storm.

For NPR news, I'm Jacob Fenston.

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SIMON: This is NPR News.

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