- Associated Press - Saturday, May 11, 2013

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) - Stephanie Decker had a Mother’s Day weekend to remember at Darlington Raceway.

In 2012, the Indiana mother lost parts of both legs protecting her two young children when tornadoes destroyed the family home in Henryville. One falling beam severed her legs, a second punctured her lung and broke eight ribs. All the while, she covered up 10-year-old son Dominic and 7-year-old daughter Reese.

It took rescuers about 45 minutes to reach Decker. She had lost about 50 percent of her blood by the time she got to a hospital.

“There were about 10 minutes of grieving,” Decker said Saturday. “Then we knew we had to come up with a plan to get my life back to where it was.”

When not using a wheelchair, she’s walking on prosthetic limbs. She was invited to the Southern 500 as part of the NASCAR Foundation’s “Ten Days of Giving” initiative. Decker, husband Joe, 10-year-old son Dominic and 7-year-old daughter Reese toured the pit area and met several Sprint Cup drivers including Indiana native and two-time series champion Tony Stewart.

She and her family will be introduced during prerace ceremonies for the Southern 500.

Stephanie Decker’s story of courage and perseverance has resonated. She and her family were invited to Yankee Stadium, where Dominic played catch with New York stars Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. The family also visited the Oval Office, with Stephanie Decker speaking to the president about making sure prosthetics would be covered by insurance.

“She definitely had an agenda,” joked husband Joe, a baseball coach at Silver Creek High School.

The family has befriended Louisville football coach Charlie Strong and attended a couple of Cardinals games.

Darlington is Decker’s second race after visiting Daytona International Speedway. Asked for her favorites, she touted home-state driver Stewart. “I also like Danica,” she says, “because us girls have to stick together.”

Decker has established the Stephanie Decker Foundation to assist children in need of prosthetics and helping others gain access to leading edge prosthetics.

Stephanie played basketball in high school and college and competed in triathlons with her husband before the accident. She’s working to return to similar pastimes with her prosthetics. Decker has received thousands of letters of support and felt the compassion that’s out there. She’s also learned that the focus shouldn’t be on her, but on those in similar predicaments who don’t have access to the most modern prosthetics.

“I expect to do the things that I did before, and that’s what we need to demand from our insurance companies,” she said. “That’s what we’re going to be fighting for nationwide.”

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