Online votes being cast for Jay Erwin to win a wheelchair accessible van
by Sherrie Norris
"I'm in total amazement of how well we are doing right now," Erwin said. "But, we wouldn't be where we are without this community, our friends and family, and we thank you so much for what you're doing."
He had "no idea how big this thing would get," when he first entered the competition.
"I am very blessed to have so many people cheering me on and helping me," Erwin said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Erwin's votes had climbed to nearly 44,000, bringing him even closer to the frontrunner, with 58,332.
Erwin, of Deep Gap, is one of about 950 people in the running for one of four new handicap-accessible vans to be given away on May 10.
Despite being a week later than some fellow contenders to learn about the contest -- and registering for what he said was a chance of a lifetime -- Erwin's story quickly began circulating via Facebook and other social media outlets in early March and the votes began pouring in.
Just a few days earlier, the Watauga Democrat was the first media outlet to feature Erwin's story, about how he became paralyzed last August from the waist down when hit by a tree that he was cutting in his yard, and how his faith and determination defied all odds and medical expectations.
Following months of surgeries, hospitalization, rehabilitation and time spent away from home and family, Erwin was able to return home in late December, and went back to work part time at Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation in late February.
Having said in the article how his family yearned for a wheel-chair accessible van to make his transports easier and less time consuming, but because of the cost (upwards of $60,000), they settled instead for a Subaru.
Erwin and his wife, Lisa, were thrilled to learn about the possibility of winning a van -- and one easily adaptable to allow him to drive again.
Erwin's story began to draw even more attention as word of the contest began to spread, while at about the same time he began a Faith Page on Facebook, and started a local support group for individuals with spine-related injuries and disabilities.
Within a short time, the husband, father and former avid runner has become a local hero for his outlook on life and how he was using his tragedy to benefit others -- and in his words, "to glorify God."
"It's very humbling. As I've told you before, it's not about me or what I'm doing. It's all about the Lord," he said on Tuesday. "I've learned to lean hard on him -- and the harder it gets, the harder I lean."
He learned about the contest through a friend from church. "I just threw it out there to see what would happen," Erwin said. "It's gone gangbusters ever since."
Votes are coming in daily from friends and family in the High Country, to running clubs across the country and people he has never met.
A runner in Charleston, S.C., has recently started a Run for Jay event. "She said that my story had inspired her and she wanted to do something for me," he said.
Erwin's story (and more information about the contest) is available on his Facebook page, on the contest website and at http://www.wataugademocrat.com.
The contest, hosted by the nonprofit National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, kicked off in late February in Tampa, Fla., and will end on May 9, during Mobility Awareness Month.
NMEDA is dedicated to expanding mobility options for people with disabilities.
This marks its third year of what has been described as a successful annual contest in which three deserving "local heroes" will be awarded a wheelchair accessible vehicle tailored to meet their needs.
National Mobility Awareness Month is dedicated to showing the world how people with disabilities can live active, mobile lifestyles with the help of adaptive mobility equipment.
Major sponsors providing the vehicles for the 2014 contest are Chrysler and Toyota.
In 2013, 1,225 contenders received more than 2.3 million votes that resulted in three deserving "local heroes" from Lexington, Ky., Villa Park, Ill., and Victoria, British Columbia Canada, being awarded fully customized wheelchair accessible vehicles.
The 2014 National Mobility Awareness Month is supported by prominent spokesmen and spokeswomen and advocates for those with disabilities, Mike Savicki and Ashley Lauren Fisher.