Tragedy of 2008 tornado at Union forms lasting campus friendship

By Mckenzie Masters
Life Editor

From the ashes of Union’s devastating EF-4 tornado five years ago came a lasting friendship.

Christin Kelley, senior athletic training medicine major, and Kristen Wilson, senior elementary education major, have much to be thankful for.

During their junior year of high school, Kelley’s brother, Matt, was trapped under the rubble with Wilson’s brother, David.

“David went to soccer practice and his coach told him it was cancelled because they were expecting storms,” Wilson said. “He and his friends returned to campus and went to Watters Commons and saw on TV that the storms were headed their way.

“A little before seven, they hunkered down in the bathrooms to wait out the storm, and at 7:02, David saw the wall crack, the lights flicker and soon he was in the dark and the building was on his back.”

Both David and Matt were pulled from the rubble five hours later, and both sustained the worst injuries of all students on campus.

The diagnosis was compartment syndrome, a limb-threatening condition where there is not enough blood flow to supply the muscles and nerves with oxygen and nutrients.

In this case, their legs were in a crouching position for too long. Both were rushed to Jackson Madison Co. General Hospital.

“We were all in the waiting room together,” Kelley said. “We were all in shock.”

Rehabilitation continued for months as both men started to recover. After staying home a semester, David and Matt returned to school.

“The next year, after I decided to attend Union, David suggested that Christin and I might enjoy rooming together since we had shared a similar experience,” Wilson said. “When I sent my application to Union, I requested her as my roommate.”

Matt also thought his sister would hit it off with Wilson.

“Due to mine and David’s experiences that we went through with the tornado, my family and I got to know David and his family pretty well,” Matt Kelley said. “I thought that since Christin and Kristen would have this connection, they would be able to form a bond as roommates. Glad to know I was right!”

Before the tornado, Kelley had different plans for college.

“I was a junior and I was applying to and visiting different schools and I did not want to come to Union before the tornado,” Kelley said. “I didn’t want to go so close to home. Then after [the tornado] happened, I realized how great everybody was here. The tornado made me come to Union.”

Wilson and Kelley met face-to-face for the first time while moving in their belongings on the first day of freshman year in August 2010.

“Ever since then we’ve been inseparable,” Kelley said.

Wilson believes their bond is strengthened by the incident.

“I remember the first week or two of freshman year, we said we felt like we had known each other so long just because we had the same background of the tornado,” Wilson said. “We knew what each other had been through.”

Now seniors, Wilson and Kelley have roomed together all four years of college and are planning on moving to Chattanooga after graduation and living together. Wilson hopes to teach and Kelley is attending the University of Chattanooga’s physical therapy school.

“I definitely think the tornado was a good thing,” Kelley said. “It was probably one of the best things of my life. It makes you appreciate the time you have, and so many good things came out of it.”

Wilson agrees.

“Obviously at the time you don’t think of [the tornado] as a blessing but now looking back, my whole family would consider it to be a blessing,” Wilson said. “I’m just so thankful that God used the tornado to bring glory to himself as well as bring Christin and I together.”

About Mckenzie Masters 15 Articles
Mckenzie Masters is editor in chief of the Cardinal & Cream and intern for in.Mode, a marketing firm in Louisville, Ky. She will graduate in May 2014 with a degree in Public Relations. Masters enjoys baking, reading a good book and her sorority, Chi Omega.