Paul Erway was injured in a car accident as a teen in Texas. Aaron Roux’s auto accident happened while home on Marine leave. For former contractor Grant Berthiaume, it was a fall in 1988 while framing houses. Each accident left each man in a wheelchair. All face a level of paralysis that gives them no use of their legs. Still, they’re wheelchair marathoners. And they picked Jackson’s Mississippi Blues Marathon to be their inaugural race on a 50 state – 50 race – 50 week journey. The trio was in Jackson yesterday at University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Rehabilitation Unit for an inspiring talk to staff and patients.
Erway said the year-long goal was his idea. “I need to have something to shoot for, something to go for,” he said. “When I didn’t make the paralympics in 1992, I kind of lost it.” Erway credited his mentor, Marty Baum (who at 72 is a wheelchair marathoner himself), for pushing him. “Marty said ‘you have to do Boston (Marathon) and then Oita (International Wheelchair Marathon in Japan.)’ He got me going again.” Twenty years later, the goal is not only in self-empowerment, but in inspiring others. “When you help people, you will be blessed.”
Upcoming races are in Houston, Phoenix, Miami, and Birmingham. But not before they tackle Jackson. When we told him about the course – including Belhaven’s famous hills and Jackson’s infamous potholes – he jokingly asked for help. “Who’s done this race before?” he questioned. “You can push me up the hill and I’ll give you a ride down. “It’s going to be a great race.”
The road hasn’t always been easy for Erway, who now works full time modifying vans for the disabled. “As a kid, my doctor said ‘deal with it,’” he told us. But his rehab doctor gave him optimism and brought him back to life. “He gave me that dream. And so I said ‘Let’s get strong again.’” Erway pointed around the room to the staff at UMMC. “That’s what these therapists are here to do. They’re here to encourage you because maybe you’re not so sure. Get up and get going again.”
Erway told of his experiences in multiple marathons, especially a cherished time in Oita in 2010. “You don’t get that by sitting around,” he said. “You’ve got to get out there and do it.”
Shelly Poole, administrator of rehabilitative services at UMMC, said the visit will help patients and staff to be inspired. “It lets (Erway and his team) know what they are doing is a positive thing,” she said. “Hopefully, in the future, we can branch out and start a program ourselves.”
The group races on behalf of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Christopher is the late actor of Superman fame who suffered a spinal cord injury in 1995 and died nearly ten years later at 52.
Visit 50abilitymarathons.com to follow the team’s progress and learn how you can help them meet their “50″ goal.