Kathleen Augustine admits she was a little worried when her son, Tom Chandler, 33, informed her of his plans.
"Honestly," she said. "I was concerned for him. I didn't say anything, though, just prayed for him, because it's his life and he is going to do what he's going to do.
"I only encouraged him."
Frewsburg native Tom Chandler waves to the camera during the Ultra Triathlon in Virginia in October.
Augustine, you'll find, had reason to worry, but there was no stopping her son anyway. He was driven, determined and most crucial of all, he had a cause.
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The weary voices over the police scanner said it all.
"Henryville is completely gone."
Seven tornadoes tore a destructive path through five states on that terrible day in early March, killing 22 in Kentucky, 13 in Indiana and 40 in all.
Henryville, a small town of about 2,000 most famous for being the birthplace of Colonel Sanders, was hit the hardest as the strongest of those vortexes, an EF-4 on the enhanced Fujita scale, which packs winds of up to 175 miles per hour, bore down on that little town in southeastern Indiana and the surrounding area, leaving in its wake a 49-mile path of devastation and destruction.
Lives were lost; homes destroyed.
"I saw the photos and all the video of it on TV when it first happened," Chandler said. "You see all that and think it's bad, but then you go see it firsthand and it impacts you even more.
"Driving into Henryville ... the whole town was destroyed, not a single house was unaffected. Seeing it brought a whole new prospective, and I thought, 'I have to help, these are my fellow Hoosiers.'"
Both the town's high school and elementary school were demolished. The winds were so powerful, in fact, that they carried light debris from Henryville all the way into Ohio.
Soon, though, amidst the rubble, the people of Henryville began to rebuild, and Chandler was there to help.
"I feel like that's kind of my purpose," he explained. "We're here to help people out. Otherwise, what are we doing?"
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From Page C1
Chandler, a 1997 Frewsburg Central School graduate who lives in Indianapolis, had always been drawn to two things above all - challenges and charity. Not only had he backpacked alone through Europe, climbed mountains, skydived, even taken up spelunking (sometimes better known as "caving"), but he'd also been a frequent participant in Habitat for Humanity and mission work with his church, eager to dedicate his time to aiding and protecting the less fortunate.
Maybe it's part of the reason he became a lawyer and is, currently, a Hancock County (Indiana) deputy prosecutor.
It's certainly why he traveled to Henryville in the aftermath of that deadly twister.
"He's always enjoyed a challenge," Augustine explained. "He's just always liked to do things on the edge, and he's always been one to get help to those in need, so none of this was out of character at all."
Initially volunteering as part of a church group, Chandler and some friends went south to help. But he wanted to do more, so in order to help raise more money for the victims, he decided to run, and swim, and bike.
Soon he got in touch with March2Recovery, a charity he particularly admired because 100 percent of the money donated went directly to the tornado relief effort, and got to work.
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Everyone has heard of the Ironman Triathlon - that grueling endurance competition in which participants must swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles.
But few know of the double triathlon.
Only two double triathlons are held in the United States, and in those races just about two dozen ever find the courage to enter. It's estimated that fewer than 1,000 people have ever finished the competition, which requires competitors swim 4.8 miles, bike 224 miles and run 52.4 miles, all in a span of 36 hours or less.
It was the monumental challenge that the race presented, to both the competitor's mind and body, that had Augustine worried.
"He'd already been involved in three or four triathlons," she explained, "but I was anxious about the double triathlon."
Chandler, however, had some money to raise for the people of Henryville - at least $5,000 was his aim - and had decided that his competing in an event like this was the best way to accomplish that goal.
"I'd already tossed the idea (of competing in a double triathlon) before the tornado," he said. "I just decided that this would be a good way to use something that I was doing anyway to help others."
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The training began in earnest in June, some four months before the race, which was called the Ultra Triathlon. It was that training, he said, that was the most difficult part of the experience.
"The training might be harder than the race itself," he noted with a laugh. "When you wake up on a Saturday morning, the last thing you want to do is spend all day on a bike alone, or spend an entire Sunday running. Finding the motivation to do that is tougher than being in the race."
Somehow, though, he fought through the tedium of training and was ready by race day, which occurred on Oct. 6 at the Lake Anna State Park in Virginia, a 2,810-acre wooded expanse on which sits a 20-square mile lake.
With friends on hand to encourage him, Chandler, along with just 18 others, completed the race, which went on through the night and into the following morning.
His time to the finish? 34 hours, 35 minutes and four seconds.
"I was relieved and very proud of him," Augustine said of Chandler's success. "When he makes a commitment, he has the mental strength to follow through. (And a race like this) is a mental thing. It's forgetting about what the body is telling you and letting the mind take charge."
Best of all, he reached his goal, raising more than $5,000.
"To cross the finish line was one goal," he said, "but there was a bigger purpose - helping those people (in Henryville). Reaching (the donation goal) was much more important to me than (having) finished the race."
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Now, more than eight months after that tragic day, recovery remains slow in Henryville.
"They still need help," Chandler said.
But there is progress. On Saturday the town celebrated the completion of the first home rebuilt thanks to the money donated by people like Chandler. And on Nov. 27, those struggling to get their lives back to normal will be taking part in another momentous occasion, especially in Indiana, as the local high school varsity basketball team will be playing for the first time in its newly rebuilt gym. Chandler is thinking about attending.
They are small steps, to be sure, but sometimes that's what it takes - both to rebuild and to finish, say, a double triathlon.
"It's all about desire and mental stamina," Chandler said. "You've just got to get on the bike and take it 10 miles at a time or start running, one step at a time to the next telephone pole. You can't look at the big picture. (With challenges like this) you just do what you can and eventually, when you look back, you'll say, 'Wow, we accomplished something pretty big.'"
It's safe to say the people of Henryville would agree.