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Hill Climbers: From a Twister of Fate to Hill Life

Joplin Tornado Gave NRSC Staffer a Push to Try Life in the Nation’s Capital

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
National Republican Senatorial Committee staff assistant Angela Zirkelbach says she was struck with “Potomac Fever” during her first visit to Washington, D.C., while her brother lived in town. A summer internship inspired her to return to the capital.

Angela Zirkelbach is not afraid to pick up and go.

A visit to the nation’s capital persuaded her to transfer to a different college. After graduating, a job opening in a small Missouri city persuaded her to move to a new place. And a tornado in that same city was all the impetus she needed to move to Washington, D.C.

The new staff assistant for the National Republican Senatorial Committee was working for the outreach group Christ in Youth in Joplin, Mo., when the city of about 50,000 was struck in May by a devastating tornado. Zirkelbach, who was already considering moving to Washington, seized the opportunity to start over. “D.C. wasn’t going to come to me,” she said, “so I had to go to D.C.”

And she did just that. After wrapping up her responsibilities at Christ In Youth, Zirkelbach packed up her few remaining belongings and headed east.

Although she had been contemplating the relocation before the tornado, Zirkelbach said losing almost everything provided the opportune moment.

“Everything that was holding me in Joplin was already gone. There was going to be no better time to move than the present,” she said.

She remembered thinking, “You can’t always just pack up everything and move across country, and I can.”

But it wasn’t the first time a single event inspired her to alter her life plans. While attending St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, Mo., she visited her brother, who was working in political communications in Washington.

“I remember going, ‘Oh my gosh, the world is bigger than the Midwest,’” Zirkelbach said. Inspired to return to the capital, she transferred to Lincoln Christian University in Illinois in 2007, where she studied business. She returned to the District the next summer for an internship in the Office of Public Liaison at the Bush White House.

“It was an amazing, amazing opportunity and something that I will always cherish,” she said, adding that it confirmed her case of Potomac Fever. “You either get it or you don’t. And I got it bad,” she said.

Zirkelbach said her family has played a large part in her enduring optimism and willingness to take risks. “After I graduated from college, my dad told me to go fail,” she said, explaining that those words have encouraged her to try new things. “I have understood the wisdom behind these words more and more every day.”

She recommends that anyone looking to start over in a new place maintain the kind of optimism she held onto after the tornado. “It’s easy to allow something like that to paralyze and to cripple a person,” she said, “but I really saw it as an opportunity to take advantage of the good that can come from it.”

She also recommends that people keep an open mind and be willing to start at the bottom. “Work hard. Come in early. Stay late. Say it with a smile on your face. And do a good job,” she said.

Although she lost most of her belongings in the tornado, Zirkelbach managed to bring more than just her optimism with her from Joplin; before she left, she and a friend chiseled off her address from the remains of her home.

“I moved that with me ... as a reminder that you never know what tomorrow brings,” she explained. “Every day I get to look at my little brick address.”

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