It’s been five years since Stephanie Decker made the life-altering decision to save her kids instead of herself when a tornado ripped through their town of Henryville, Indiana. And the devoted mom says she has no regrets about losing both of her legs in the process.
“I don’t even think twice about it,” says Decker, who appears on People Icons: Heroes & Survivors on Tuesday, March 14, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC. “I wouldn’t change it for a million bucks. Things happen for a reason. It was my time to step up.”
On March 2, 2012, Stephanie, now 42, had just made it home with her two children, Dominic, 8, and Reese, 5, when the wind really started picking up. So they made their way to the basement.
“I looked up and I saw our trampoline that was staked in the ground go flying across the yard,” she says. “Then the entire house started to shake. I became petrified at that point and one of the windows busted in.”
So she took a blanket, wrapped her children in it and laid down on top of them.
“I watched the foundation separate from the house and lift up,” she says.
The F4 tornado with 175-mile-an-hour winds was tearing through their home. She looked up and saw a 20-foot steel I-beam, which had been holding their house together, falling toward her.
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“I could see it in slow motion,” she says. “I was covered in bricks and stones. I could let go of them, move the stuff off me and get away from that beam. I chose to let the beam fall instead of letting go of my kids. The feeling was, ‘I’d rather get my arms ripped off instead of letting go of my kids.'”
Instead, her legs were crushed.
But that wasn’t all. Now she was trapped with the beam on her legs and there was another tornado, this one an F2, headed their way that ripped a pillar off their home.
- Tune in to People Icons: Heroes & Survivors on Tuesday, March 14, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC for more on these and other inspiring stories.
“The pillar was coming straight for my daughter’s head,” she says. “Now that I only have upper-body movement I can’t cover them so I’m twisting back and forth taking the brunt of the flying debris. I twisted my body and it broke eight ribs and punctured my lung.”
But her daughter was safe.
After her kids ran for help, she made a pledge. “I knew if I could get out of here I would somehow try and make an impact,” she says.
One year after the tornado, she started the Stephanie Decker Foundation, which has helped 250 children who have lost limbs attend a local sports camp. She also travels across the country as a motivational speaker. She and her husband, Joe, 47, a high school math teacher and baseball coach, did not rebuild their home. They now live about 15 minutes away in Sellersburg, Indiana.
Stephanie recently took up running with special prostheses and hopes to one day be on Dancing with the Stars.
“I love the impossible,” she says. “That’s my forte.”