(MADISON, Wis.) — When a tornado ravaged his hometown in Kentucky, University of Wisconsin basketball player Chris Vogt was preparing for one of his team’s biggest games of the season.
But instead of focusing on setting screens and rebounding, the 7-foot tall center said his mind was on Mayfield, the town of roughly 10,000 people suffering greatly in the aftermath of a swarm of twisters that destroyed homes of friends and killed 89 people across Kentucky and four other states.
“It was a huge game for us. I knew it was one I couldn’t miss, I didn’t want to miss. But it was definitely weighing on me as I’m kind of getting ready for the game, trying to clear my mind,” the 22-year-old told ABC News of the Saturday night game between his Badgers and Ohio State University in Columbus.
“My teammates and coaches did a great job of trying to talk to me before the game, trying to help clear my mind. As the game went on, I was able to do that a little bit more, just kind of focus on playing basketball,” he said. “But as soon as the game was over, where my heart and soul went was back to Mayfield, just thinking about what I could do to help.”
On the flight back to Madison, Wisconsin, Vogt, with the help of instructions he found by Googling, set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Mayfield residents who lost homes in the storm.
“While I was so far away I was thinking, ‘I can’t be there tomorrow, I can’t be there for a few days, what can I do to help?"” he said. “By the time our plane got to Madison, I had it ready to go and launched it, and it’s taken off ever since.”
As of Thursday evening, Vogt’s GoFundMe page had raised more than $150,000, with donations pouring in from more than 2,200 people from across the country.
— Chris Vogt (@ChrisVogt33) December 11, 2021
Vogt traveled to Mayfield on Thursday to see the devastation for himself. Walking around his decimated city, he said it was heartbreaking to see buildings he had walked by countless times as a child, including his favorite restaurant, all reduced to rubble.
“I was born and raised here, lived here for 18 years. Some of my fondest memories are here. I still keep in contact with a lot of my friends who are from here … my parents still live here. So, I have a lot of ties back here,” Vogt said. “Just looking around, looking at my hometown, especially the courthouse, kind of one of the more iconic buildings in Mayfield, it just looks like something out of a movie scene. It feels like kind of just a bad dream.”
Vogt said he plans to distribute the money he is raising to the Red Cross as well as to emergency resource offices in Graves County and Mayfield High School, which are helping people who are displaced by putting them in hotel rooms and providing everyday necessities. He also plans to donate part of the donations to a tornado relief fund that is being established.
“I’ve been able to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time, and it kind of makes the whole situation a lot more real,” Vogt said. “To be able to be here and just shake someone’s hand and check in on them and ask them how they’re doing, how’s things going, you can kind of feel the impact being here a lot more than just being in Wisconsin.”
He said he’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from friends as well as strangers.
“They’re the real heroes in this whole situation. Anyone that tries to thank me, I just redirect it to the donors. They’re the ones who deserve it. They’re the heroes who made this whole thing possible,” Vogt said. “It’s humbling to see that many people reach out and support. I never would have thought it would have gotten this much support, and seeing it take off to this level is kind of inspiring to say the least.”
He added, “Something this devastating to hit such a small area has been tough, but we have felt the support of the whole country and feel like we can build it back just how it was or even better.”
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