Clearwater plane crash survivor now Paralympic medalist

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Clearwater's Brad Kendell, who was the sole survivor of a 2003 plane crash that took the life of his dad and a friend, returned a silver medalist from the Rio Paralympics.

On Thursday, dozens of friends, family members and fellow sailors packed a terminal at Tampa International Airport to welcome home the local sailor. 

"This means so much to me right now, just to have so many of my family and friends here," Kendell said while fighting back tears.

"Stop crying daddy!" Kendell's 6-year-old daughter, Piper, joked.

Kendell began sailing at an early age, but his dream of becoming an Olympian came later in life. His first dream was to become an airline pilot, but those plans were dashed when he was just 22.

In 2003, the Kendell family's twin-engine Piper Navajo plane crashed into a Clearwater neighborhood. Kendell's legs were crushed and would have to be amputated, but he made it out alive. The others inside, Kendell's father, Bruce, and his flight instructor, Daniel Griffith, Jr., both died in the crash.

As he recovered, Kendell soon began chasing a dream passed down to him by his father. Bruce Kendell was a prolific sailor and long-time member of the Clearwater Yacht Club. Kendell embraced his father's passion for sailing, and after years of work, he and his teammates finally earned the right to represent the U.S. at this summer's Paralympic Games in Rio.

Because sailing will not be a part of the 2020 games in Tokyo, Kendell and his crew only had one shot to make their Olympic dreams come true.

"Every day I pretty much woke up thinking about dad over there," said Kendell.

On Saturday, Kendell and teammates Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J.),  and Hugh Freund (South Freeport, Maine) captured a silver medal in the final race of the Sonar class. For Kendell, it was the perfect tribute to the father he lost 13 years ago.

"[I received] a lot of text messages and emails after we won the medal [saying], 'you know your dad was watching down on you'," said Kendell. "I know he's here and it's awesome. It really is."