FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – It was a day at the races for three people, who during two recent tragedies, raced to help and protect others.
Three heroes were honored at the Firestone 550 race at Texas Motor Speedway. Teachers Jennifer Simonds and Sam Canaday shielded ten kindergartners at Plaza Towers Elementary School during an F5 tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma.
“I just laid on them because I’ve lived the majority of my life. They are 5 and 6 years old. They haven’t lived their life. I just wanted to protect them,” Simonds said.
C.J. Gillespie, Captain of the West Volunteer Firefighter was a first responder at a chemical plant explosion in West that killed 15 firefighters.
He was lost his home in the explosion.
The three were invited to Texas Motor Speedway for the heroism they displayed during those two tragic events.
But they don’t like to be called heroes.
“There were a lot of heroes that day. People that came out of their homes and didn’t care what they lost and they came and they helped us get out,” Canaday said. “They pulled bricks off us. They pulled cars off of us. They pulled the children the children out and they never once thought of themselves, those are your heroes.”
Canaday’s 5 year old daughter also attends Plaza Towers Elementary School. Her daughter was one of the children she shielded during the storm.
“First she didn’t talk about it,” Canaday said. But 11 days later, the family endured yet another catastrophe.
“We went through a second tornado and lost our home, which basically, we’ve lost everything,” Canaday said.
She says her little girl has nightmares about the tornadoes.
But today the families were given the VIP treatment, touring the Speedway, meeting drivers and racing legend Mario Andretti.
It was a welcome distraction.
“It’s been rough. Just to get away and get a break, it’s amazing,” said Simonds.
The women were honorary Grand Marshalls of the Firestone 550 race.
Gillespie waved the green flag to start the race. He dedicated it his friend and fellow firefighter, Cody Dragoo, who loved racing and died in the West Explosion.
“I’m not just waving it for me but I’m waving it for him and all the other victims of West,” he said.
But from the tragedies these families have endured, a spirit of good and giving has blossomed.
“I kind of had lost faith in humanity,” Canaday said. “But that has been renewed because people we don’t know are offering help, they are coming from all over the United States to help.”
They say they’ll rebuild their respective towns and their lives.
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