By Jesse Wood
April 3, 2014. Jay Erwin of Deep Gap suffered a spinal cord injury last fall while he was cutting a tree, paralyzing him from the chest down. Now, he is in the running for one of four custom wheelchair accessible vehicles through an online contest titled “Local Heroes” put on by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association during National Mobility Awareness Month Campaign.
Voting began on March 11 and ends May 9. Last year, more than 1,125 entries received 2.3 million votes throughout the U.S. Just last week, Erwin was in 21st place, having moved up almost 10 places in two days. Although he currently has 13,230 votes, he will need many more votes in the coming weeks to win a vehicle that will dramatically improve not only his independence but that of his family as well. Contestants that finish in the top four will win one of the tailored vehicles. Click here to vote for Erwin.
Last fall, Erwin properly notched the large tree he was cutting, but when it fell, it became lodged into another tree. While trying to cut the other tree to free the initial tree to the ground, a large branch struck Erwin on the shoulder, driving him to the ground.
“It killed me. I was dead at the time. No pulse. I wasn’t breathing, and my son who is 19 years old and never had CPR training … administered CPR and got me going with about three rounds of CPR,” Erwin said, adding that his son called 911.
Erwin was flown to Johnson City Medical Center, where he spent nearly a month, undergoing several major surgeries to repair his smashed shoulder and stabilize his back. Then he was transported to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, one of the nations top rehabilitation hospitals for spinal cord injuries. Erwin said he stayed there for nearly 100 days, returning to Boone more than a week before Christmas.
For someone who co-founded the Boone Running Club and ran eight to 10 miles a day before the injury, Erwin simply said, “It’s a big change, and it’s a shock to be honest.”
But throughout this ordeal, Erwin said that his faith in God has been his rock. He specifically mentioned 2 Corinthians 12:10 – That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong – as his favorite verse.
“I don’t see how anybody could get through this without faith. That’s what’s helped me through this thing along with great support from [community members],” Erwin said.
Erwin mentioned that Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation, his employer, and co-workers have been very supportive. Working part-time as of late, Erwin said he will soon return to working full time. Erwin also said he was thankful to have a supportive family – a loving wife Lisa, a 19-year-old son Samuel and 16-year-old daughter Kaitlyn. He mentioned his mother and father and in-laws have also helped tremendously – not to mention members of the community.
As for the contest, Erwin said he has received an “overwhelming” amount of support from friends and running clubs in Wilmington, Illinois, Florida and, of course, locally.
Erwin said that winning the custom wheelchair accessible vehicle would be “huge.”
“It would give me independence. It would give my wife independence,” Erwin said. “I could go to and from work by myself and right now I am having to lift myself, using a board, from the wheelchair into the car. [With this vehicle] it would help me to roll in and out, roll in and get behind the wheel in my wheelchair, lock it and drive.”
Throughout it all, Erwin has maintained a positive attitude and has vowed to pray for those in worse conditions. On his voting page for the “Local Heroes” contest, Erwin wrote: “God led me to many incredible people. The friendship that I made were for life! Praying for those who were in worse shape than me is what God led me to do and that is what I did. I was at Shepherd for about 100 days and I got to come home just before Christmas. It was so good to be back at home with my family, dogs and familiar surroundings. My whole county has supported me so much and for that I am very grateful! God has been glorified! Amen.”
He has even decided to participate in Hunter’s Heroes 2014 this June and race in a 5K. The event began last year as a scholarship fundraiser for the son of Watauga County Sheriff’s Deputy William Mast Jr., who died in the line of duty. While he can’t run, Erwin will race it in a wheelchair.
“I’ll be there to do that race, and I want everyone to know who have a disability that they don’t have to be defeated by it,” Erwin said. “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
Click here to vote for Erwin.