Mariah Sanders swung a mighty bat this season for Joplin’s softball team and hit a team-best .438. She struck out once in 80 at-bats.

The multi-talented senior also sprinted strongly down a runway carrying a 12-foot pole to win the Ozark Conference pole vault championship earlier this month with a mark of 10 feet, 6 inches.

But all of it pales in comparison to what Sanders can do with a hammer.

The senior who graduates tonight helped rebuild her family’s home that was demolished in last year’s EF-5 tornado. Sanders, whose harrowing tornado-day story hit national media markets last May, often hammered nails on the roof past midnight over the summer and fall with her dad Fred.

“We’d sometimes make some real late-night runs to Lowes at 9 or 10,” Mariah said. “Then we’d just get on a roll until midnight or 1. It was cooler at night and easier to do.”

But there’s nothing easy about building your own home, even with 14-year-old sister Miranda and mom Angela helping out.  Mariah said the house is in the later “painting stages” and should be completed soon.

The Sanders family is not alone. According to reports, building reports have been issued for almost 70 percent of the destroyed homes in Joplin.

“You don’t realize all the work that goes into making a house until you have to do it,” Mariah said. “When I see construction workers now, I want to get out of my car and say ‘Thank you.’”

Mariah is the polite and courteous type, said former softball coach and now assistant athletic director Bruce Vonder Haar.

“Never heard her complain once about having to do all the extra work or going the late hours,” Vonder Haar said. “You’d never hear how tired she was or what she had to go through. She just loves her family and is supportive in every way.”

Especially after she almost lost them in the tornado.

Mariah was with a friend in Seneca, 20 miles away, while her family was huddled in a closet, bracing for the nation’s deadliest tornado since 1947. She didn’t realize how strong the twister was until she received multiple texts, one from Miranda that said: MARIAH TORNADO HIT US AND EVERYTHING’S GONE.

Mariah spent the next 24 hours frantically trying to get home to reconnect with her family. Nobody was allowed into Joplin but Mariah found a way and eventually found her family.

“Honestly, those 24 hours I was pretty much crying,” she said. “You were in so much shock. You don’t know what to think. You had no idea what you’re going to do or how life was going to be. You didn’t know if your friends were OK, your coaches. So much goes through your mind. You are just in shock.

“It was the worst feeling ever.”

Needless to say, she doesn’t want to ever let go of her family again. No matter how challenging it is building a home together.

“We can’t always have happy moments together,” Mariah said. “We fight sometimes like all families. When everyone is busy and struggling with everything it’s hard. Everyone is working their butts off.”

Fred works full-time at a body shop and Angela works full-time in a behavioral health center. Miranda is a full-time student and traveling softball player and coached by her dad. Mariah is getting ready to go to college. She graduates tonight in what promises to be an emotional ceremony.

“Considering what we all went through it’s going to be harder to leave each other,” Mariah said. “A year ago we were just saying how happy we are to be alive. Now we’re all leaving. It’s hard.”

Mariah still counts her blessings for all the support Joplin received in the aftermath of catastrophe.

“It’s unbelievable we’ve made it this far,” she said. “But it’s believable because of all the help we had.”

By Mitch Stephens



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