Brent Stroebel flew into New York City Nov. 2 with the intention of running in the city's marathon.

But one superstorm later, those plans were dashed, sending the Stephenville man on a cleanup mission he never expected, but one he now wouldn't trade for the world.

Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast one day before Stroebel arrived, leaving much of the area in ruins and without power. But when Stroebel left Texas, New York City officials had vowed the marathon would go on as planned.

After Stroebel's plane landed, and he was making his way to the hotel, he learned things had changed.

"When I was making my way to where I was staying, I stopped at a restaurant and told one of the guys working there that I was in town for the marathon," Stroebel said. "He told me it had been canceled."

Stroebel called an official with LUNGevity, the charity he was running to raise money for, and was told the marathon was still on.

That confusion ended 15 minutes later when a formal announcement was made on television that the marathon had been canceled.

It was Friday and Stroebel had planned to run the marathon on Sunday then spend the rest of the week touring the city with his brother.

That night, he went to a team dinner where he met with other runners disappointed the event had been canceled. It was then that many of them decided to join the clean up effort.

Stroebel was staying in Queens, an area that wasn't affected by Sandy and one of the few places that still had power.

On Sunday, Stroebel and several others boarded a ferry to Staten Island, and from there, took a subway to one of the hardest hit areas.

"We got off the subway and just started walking," Stroebel said. "We walked for about a mile and reached a command center set up at a church by community members."

They were given gloves, trash bags, shovels and brooms and told to help residents to clean up their homes.

"It was organized chaos," he said. "Most of the victims were still pretty frazzled. They were sad and heartbroken. All of their belongings were just trashed."

One man Stroebel helped had placed many of his belongings on top of beds and on cabinets hoping to protect them from the water.

It didn't work.

By the time the water had receded, the man's home and almost all of his belongings were destroyed.

In the midst of the cleanup effort, the man stopped and asked Stroebel to help him look for a nickel.

"He kept a jar of coins, and in that jar was a nickel he has had since he was eight years old," Stroebel said. "He asked me to help him find it."

Stroebel did, of course, but the irony wasn't lost on him.

"Everything he had, had been destroyed," Stroebel said. "And we were looking for a nickel."

They found the nickel, and before Stroebel left, the man thanked him for helping and apologized that the marathon had been canceled.

"At that point I didn't care about the marathon anymore," he said. "But everyone was so appreciative and thankful for the help."

As night fell, the city took on a dream-like quality.

"I've never been involved in a major national disaster like that," Stroebel said. "Seeing FEMA and the people working for FEMA was surreal."

With no power, the neighborhoods were pitch black with only an occasional command center operating on a generator radiating intermittent light.

"It was strange to walk through neighborhoods that were completely dark and desolate and getting colder by the minute," he said.

Cars that had been parked along the streets when the storm hit sat in ruins, filled with dirt, mud and debris.

"There were cars lined up street after street with the word 'Geico' and a number written on them," he said. "They were marked to show that an insurance adjuster had been there."

Stroebel is back home in Stephenville now. He will donate the money he raised to LUNGevity and has plans to run in the New York City Marathon next year.