LEWISTON – If Ben Hayes fails to take the big award, it won’t be for lack of trying on the part of his friends.
Paralyzed during a freak mishap in 2007, the Lewiston man has an impressive support team behind him. They call themselves the Ben Hayes Support Fund and they almost always have something going on to help their friend and his family.
This week, it’s the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Best Dad on Wheels contest, in which Hayes is a finalist. In her entry, Ben’s wife, Erin, describes her husband this way:
“My husband, Ben, suffered a C4/C5 spinal cord injury on December 21st, 2007. Our daughter, Isabel, was 4½ months old at the time. Ben has developed a loving relationship with Isabel.
He does everything in his power to connect with her and make her realize that even though daddy cannot move, he still loves her and can play with her every day.
“He uses what he has gained to ‘hug’ her,” Erin wrote to the Reeve Foundation. “He had her in front of him while he worked out and let her crawl on him like he was her jungle gym. They ‘swing’ in his lift and once Ben could move his arm, she would hold his hand even though he couldn't hold hers.
“They eat together and at night he tells her stories. He does everything he can with her and teaches her every single day that daddy is no different than anyone else. He just needs a chair. The older she gets, the more questions she asks.
“Ben calmly answers them all in a way that she can understand,” Erin wrote. “She knows about daddy's injury and she knows, just as she said, that one day daddy will get up and walk.”
Erin’s words were stirring enough to move contest judges — and her own husband.
“She surprised me with it,” Ben said Wednesday.
Ben, 32, is the son of Bonnie and Bob Hayes of Auburn. He is a real estate specialist with Hannaford, a company that has been very involved with the support team.
“I’m very lucky to work for an organization like that,” Ben said.
He spent six years with the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and was a ski coach at the time of his injury.
The skiing background made his accident that much more bitter for some.
Four days before Christmas 2007, Ben and his wife were together for the holiday. With fresh snow on the ground, Ben jumped into it, meaning to slide down a hill, which he’d done countless times over the years.
But this time, something went wrong. His spine was damaged immediately, an injury that ultimately sent him to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a rehab facility for people with spinal cord injuries.
His friends and family get a lot of credit for rallying around him during the hard days of recovery. But Ben is no slouch, either. Within four months of his return from the rehab facility, he was back to work at Hannaford. By April 2009, he was full time again.
“You’ve got to keep pushing forward,” he said. “There are still plenty of opportunities out there.”
His supporters say the things Ben retained since the accident are more apparent than the things he lost.
“While Ben’s spine is damaged,” his supporters wrote at supporthayes.com, “his determination, unflappable sense of humor and strength of character are still very much intact.”
Ben is among the top 10 finalists for the Dad on Wheels contest, which honors those “who are living with paralysis and are demonstrating such important attributes as dedication, love, encouragement and goodwill on a regular basis.”
Voting ends Friday. Information about the finalists can be found at christopherreeve.org.
Almost immediately after Ben was injured, a core group formed a support team. On the supporthayes.com website, the list of events is almost full, with spaghetti suppers, raffles, bottle drives, golf tournaments and dances.
“We’re very appreciative of all that they’ve done,” Ben said. “We wouldn’t be able to get by like we do without them.”