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June 25, 2011

Track athlete counts his blessings

TUSCALOOSA | Of all the University of Alabama student-athletes who required some type of assistance in the wake of the April 27 tornado, few, if any, lost as much property as Joel Lynch.

And few were as lucky.

The UA track athlete lived on the first floor of a two-story building near the UA campus that was completely destroyed.

"My music and TV turned off. My ears popped, and I went to my back window," Lynch said of the tornado. "It wasn't like a skinny, slim twister. It was a great cloud of debris. It sounded like a train. That was the only moment I got nervous or was scared."

Lynch took cover in his closet just seconds before the tornado began destroying his building. He opened his eyes for a split-second, and got them filled with debris. When he arose, he climbed to the top of his heap of personal rubble. His neighbor was screaming, in shock, and trying to aid her dog. He grabbed a Philadelphia Eagles T-shirt - Lynch is an ardent Eagles fan - and put it on before surveying the damage. Not only was his residence in wreckage, but so was his Toyota Corolla.

But aside from some scrapes and bruises, Lynch himself was spared.

"It's a blessing I'm here in one piece," Lynch said. "I can't complain about losing material things."

With his cell phone dead, his belongings in ruin and no power, letting people know he was unharmed wasn't easy. As UA athletic officials began reaching track athletes one by one, Lynch's was the name nobody could yet cross off.

"Joel was the last one we heard from," said former UA track coach Harvey Glance. "He was hard to track down"

Soon after the storm, UA's athletic compliance office helped him move into Bryant Hall so he could not only finish the track season, but have a residence for summer school as well. Lynch's mother drove to Tuscaloosa from Atlanta on the night of the storm - a trip that normally takes three hours, but took nearly six due to weather-related traffic problems. Lynch returned home to Atlanta with her, and it wasn't until he got there that he was able to begin processing mentally all that had happened.

"Going home, that's when I felt like I could really exhale. That's the only way I can describe going home and not being around trees going through roofs everywhere," Lynch said. "Once I got back to Atlanta I was able to look back and reflect and thank the Lord above."

Glance wasn't expecting Lynch to continue competing for the balance of the season, but about two days after returning to Atlanta, Lynch called the coach and told him he wanted to do just that. Lynch called it a chance to return to normalcy, and Glance was more than happy to welcome him back not only to Tuscaloosa, but to the team as well.

"Shortly after that, I had him over to the house," Glance said. "And he fell asleep watching a movie on my couch. I won't forget that - it was like he was finally getting some peace."

Reach Chase Goodbread at [email protected] or at 205-722-0196.

Alabama NEWS


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