DODGE CITY — She listens for a living. If you're in the Hutchinson area and suffering from a heart attack, or if your child is choking, or if you're being held up, Shelly Haskin is the person to call.
She's a 911 dispatcher. Her job is her ears.
Haskin grew up in Greensburg, which is where her children grew up, too. Her twins, Ariel and Adam, would still be there. They'd still be in high school and living with their father, if not for the tornado that leveled the town May 4, leaving mostly memories.
That night, Haskin drove frantically from Hutchinson back to her hometown, her mind racing because there was little else it would do.
"For some reason, I'm afraid to drive in storms now," Haskin said.
Once there, after walking what seemed like 10 miles amid twisted trees, downed power lines and flattened houses, she heard the words that would have eased her mind hours earlier --"The twins are OK" -- but this time, unlike countless other times on the job, she needed to see.
All trust was gone.
When she found Adam, Haskin sobbed. Her father died three months ago, and she wasn't prepared for another loss.
She still isn't, so she clings to her maternal instincts, which means clinging to her children, now more than ever.
Last week, at the Class 1A regional track meet at Dodge City, Haskin hovered near her son moments before Adam would attempt to finish in the top four in the shot put and reach this weekend's state meet at Cessna Stadium.
When had Adam morphed into a man?
He was "a hero" for rescuing the elderly lady who lived next door, and he was selfless for accepting the loss of his favorite leather jacket, which was soaked by rain and infested with fiberglass.
No 16-year-old should be this understanding, she thought.
But that's how Adam and his Greensburg High teammates have been throughout.
Can't practice? No problem.
Cancel the rest of the season? Not a chance.
Adam had a singular focus the whole time.
"I really do want to go to state," he said. "Not many sophomores get a chance to do this."
Standing against a fence a few feet away, Haskin's mind drifted. Again.
If there was any justice in this world.
If only he could match his personal best of 48 feet, 1 inch -- which, incidentally, was set the day the tornado struck.
And if only he could do it now, after all he'd been through, which included living in his tattered track uniform for two days and cramming his size-12 feet into his sister's 10s.
No more ifs, she decided.
Adam was in control.
Haskin draped an arm around her son's broad shoulders.
"I'm so proud of him," she said later, still beaming. "I think he's going to do it."
New boxes of Nikes are scattered throughout the blue-topped tent, erected moments earlier by strangers.
Discarded clothing tags tumble across the nearby grass. Manhattan-based sportswear company GTM donated new uniforms.
Kids wear crisp, white T-shirts bearing these messages:
"UNITED -- PROUD -- STRONG"
"WE ARE HERE TO STAY"
This is where the Greensburg High track team lives.
The coach, Joe Hoover, keeps in touch with his athletes by updating a Web site and through team-wide text messaging. Attendance at the few practices Hoover has organized has been inconsistent, but that's to be expected.
"If they show up to work, they work their butts off," Hoover says. "If they don't show up, you have to understand -- they have to get their lives together.... If you don't understand, you shouldn't be in this business."
A coach from another school approaches Hoover. There is pain on her face, but she continues.
"It's just terrible what's happened, Joe," she says. "I know we're not supposed to, but we'll be rooting for you guys."
He didn't have to talk about it, but he did.
Adam was set to compete in the javelin, his weakest event, at any minute, but the details of what he'd gone through flew from his mouth:
From under the stairwell in the basement of his father's house, his ears started popping. There was a crash, a noise that sounded "like a bowling ball hitting the wall," followed by an explosion, likely from the pressure.
Then it turned bad.
"I heard the nails being ripped from out of the wood, this terrible sound I'll never forget," he said. "Right then, I thought it might kill us all."
He started to take inventory.
His thoughts turned to his twin sister, who was eventually found at 6 a.m., at a friend's house. He lost a treasured pistol and a picture of his girlfriend.
"But I can get another one of those," he said.
There wasn't much else. He laughed as he relayed the tale of a girl who grabbed her cell phone and iPod when the sirens sounded. He said what he was supposed to say, about how it was miraculous there weren't more casualties, but then he caught himself.
"It's really depressing that we have to start all over," he said.
But not with track. His immediate goals, if not the rest of his life, were still intact.
To train, he could drive from his father's rented place in Pratt to his mother's house in Hutchinson, where he also stayed.
He was fortunate, he reasoned.
"I feel like I'm a little older now," Adam said. "I've been through something a lot of people haven't been through."
He walked off, casting a knowing glance at his mother. Haskin understood.
This would be redemption. They were certain.
His third and final attempt was his best of the day, a heave of 44 feet, 6 ½ inches.
But it was also 4 feet shy of the fourth-place finisher.
He wouldn't be going to Wichita.
The realization grounded Adam, who planted himself in the grass just outside of the pit. He labored to untie his shoes. His girlfriend came over to console him, but he ignored her.
He bowed his head, avoiding eye contact.
In the distance, Haskin could only stare.
Her instincts told her to hug him, as she'd done so often in recent days, but she couldn't. Fifteen minutes passed before she spoke to her son, a brief conversation that wasn't necessary.
Haskin knew how he felt.
She listened anyway.