Former NFL star Grant Wistrom heartbroken by tornado devastation in Joplin, Mo.
For Wistrom, a former NFL standout, the tragedy has special resonance because he was born and raised in the Joplin area.
"It’s heartbreaking," he said Tuesday in a phone interview from his home in Springfield, Mo., 70 miles east of Joplin. "Just talking to guys who have been on the ground there, they say they can’t even tell what part of the city they’re in just by looking around."
Wistrom, whose parents now live in Oklahoma, said he and his family have spent the last two days touching base with people they know in the area. He grew up in Webb City, about five miles north of downtown Joplin.
"We know people who have lost their homes and businesses," he said, "but we haven’t heard of anybody we know who have lost their lives."
A former first-round draft pick who spent nine seasons with St. Louis (1998-2003) and Seattle (2004-06), Wistrom is now part-owner of a gym in Springfield and maintains a charitable foundation aimed at helping pediatric cancer patients.
The hospital where he was born was demolished by the tornado. By Tuesday afternoon, the death toll in Joplin had reached 117, making it the deadliest such event in the U.S. since 1953.
Wistrom said that as soon as authorities allow, he plans to participate in the cleanup in any way possible. He described Joplin as "your typical Midwest town -- blue collar, couple hospitals, good, hardworking people.
"That part’s been a blessing. When something like that happens around here, people come together. It’s been a beautiful thing to witness, even though it’s a tragedy. People dropping everything and it’s, 'What can I do? How can I help?' "
-- Sam Farmer
Photo: Former NFL football player Grant Wistrom in 2002. Credit: Harry How / Allsport