By JB Clark
TUPELO – As Gum Tree 10k runners made their way into the Joyner neighborhood Saturday, the sun got brighter and hotter where trees that once provided shade now lie in debris piles.
The race route also got louder as residents stood in front of their damaged and debris-covered homes to maintain the tradition of cheering on the runners.
The race has wound through the quaint Joyner neighborhood for years but this year 10-foot-high stacks of trees hid houses from view and blue tarps served as roofs. But amidst the rubble from the April 28 EF-3 tornado and workers walking rooftops, residents were still gathering for yard parties, cheering and giving smiles of encouragement.
“The run was awesome and it was hot but what was really touching was on the way the people who had been affected by the tornado cheering us on,” said first-time runner Kim Lanphere of Saltillo. “Tupelo Strong says it all.”
Along Clayton Avenue, families stood in front of their debris piles shouting encouragement at the runners and thanking runners for coming to Tupelo and helping restore a sense of normalcy in the midst of destruction. Runners shouted back their thanks for the encouragement and hospitality.
“Keep going runners, you’re doing great, runners,” shouted John and Mary Lee Reed from the parking lot of St. Luke United Methodist Church to the 1,000 runners as they passed.
“Tupelo Strong,” replied one runner.
“Thank you for having us,” said another.
“We’re praying for you,” another said.
The Reeds, members of St. Luke, have served breakfast to race-watchers almost every year since 1999. They stood in front of their heavily damaged church and offered those who walked by some coffee or breakfast.
“I think it’s good we still did the race,” said Laura Moore, who was watching from Clayton Avenue, near her damaged Pinhurst Street home. “It seems like we’re all working together and we’re not going to give up and that this tornado didn’t destroy Tupelo. We’re going to make it better, keep cleaning up and still have a race.”
Jennifer Martin, one of the race organizers, said she saw a sign that said, “Gumtree special, free limbs,” held up by a Joyner resident.
“We take humor where we can and the Joyner neighbors really seemed to enjoy it this morning,” Martin said. “The Gum Tree parties on the front lawns were still going and the runners got to see that we are coming back.”