RUMFORD — What began as a small wager between two men on Facebook and has mushroomed into a meaningful fundraiser for a 17-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis.

The area is rallying for Ashleigh Merchant, the daughter of Randy and Heather Violette-Merchant, who is waiting for a double-lung transplant. She is on a waiting list at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The wager began around March 24 when Roger White of White’s Yardworks of Rumford challenged Tommy Tompkins of Carthage over Facebook to lose weight.

At about the same time, Ashleigh’s mom posted a heartfelt passage on Facebook to friends and family about her daughter.

In part, it read, “We have accepted the fact that the time has come that we need to expand our support system. As much as we want to be able to do this ourselves, that will be impossible!

“We need as much help as we can get,” she wrote. “This is something we just cannot do alone. We have had many people ask what they can do to help out, and we figured it was time to start letting them.

“This page (Air For Ash) is a starting point to let people know that, yes, Ashleigh has been listed for a double-lung transplant and yes, this will be the biggest and most challenging journey of our lives.

“We are most graciously hoping that there are enough generous people out there that want to ride along with us and help get us to our destination. Of course, that destination is Ashleigh being able to breathe freely with her new set of lungs and to live a happy and fulfilling life!” Heather Violette-Merchant wrote.

Plans are also in the works by the office staff at Mountain Valley High School for a benefit fundraiser on May 1 at Rumford Eagles for Ashleigh.

With that in mind, White, who became known this winter for awareness messages painted on his snowplows about diabetes, domestic violence, cancer and cystic fibrosis, said on Facebook he would pay $10 a pound for 30 days of weight loss by Tompkins, with the money going to Ashleigh for her transplant.

Others picked up on the online wager. By Monday, the amount was approaching $600 per pound, with more than 200 businesses and individuals weighing in.

“Money is tight for everybody, but even if two people pair up at 50 cents a pound, it makes a buck a pound. Every dollar helps toward this little girl,” Tompkins said.

The Greater Rumford Community Center donated a two-month membership at its Fitness Center to Tompkins and a month working out with Dawson Walton as a trainer to help with the weight loss.

On March 31, Tompkins, 44, showed up for his first workout.

“I weigh 370. That’s what I weighed last Wednesday when I stepped on the scales. I hadn’t stepped on the scales all winter. I stepped on the scales and I weighed 370 and I said, ‘Holy cow!'”

Wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with “Air For Ash” in black letters on the front and the symbol for Cystic Fibrosis on the back, Tompkins began a series of repetitive exercises, sharing the story during his short-winded breaks.

“It started out as kind of a joke with Roger, and the next thing you know we had people saying they’d donate a dollar a pound or five dollars a pound, Tompkins said. “Roger bumped his to $10. Poland’s Tire in Portland went $10. Other businesses $5. Roger and I figured we’d set a goal of 50 or 60 bucks.”

“Roger, he puts on Facebook, ‘Ah c’mon people, join the wagon. Tommy just left McDonald’s; and Tommy left Dunkin’ Donuts with a dozen doughnuts,'” Tompkins said.

“I don’t know Ashleigh at all,” he said. “I know who Ashleigh’s dad is, that’s all I know. There’s a motivation because I probably wouldn’t have worked hard to lose the weight. We started out jokingly with our friends.”

Tompkins admitted, “I know absolutely nothing about cystic fibrosis. All I do know is (Roger) told me she goes to Boston like every six weeks to get her lungs pumped out. Roger White’s the one that got this going, got me motivated. Now everyone is kind of just jumping aboard.”

Tompkins said, “I started eating right last Wednesday, and I’ve done nothing but drink water and eat salads and vegetables and I’ve lost about 15 or 16 pounds. I had somebody who asked, how do we know you weighed 370? Well, like I’m going to put I weighed 370 on Facebook?” he said.

Tompkins coached his son’s team in basketball with River Valley Recreation again this winter.

“The thing is, I get up and run with the kids for five minutes and I’m spent,” Tompkins said. “To lose weight for my kid so I’ll be around is one thing, but that’s easier said than done. This gives me more drive now that these people are putting money on me. My goal is 30 pounds when I do a weigh-in at a benefit in front of everybody (on May 1).”

Asked what his son, Dakota, thinks about what his dad is doing, Tompkins said, “He’s always been trying to get me to lose weight. And I know that as I get older, it’s only going to be worse. My goal is that I’d like to get down to 300 pounds again, but to lose 30 pounds by May 1 for the weigh-in. We’d like everybody possible to come to her benefit.”

Tompkins is also motivated to lose the weight that will allow him to get back behind the wheel of a stock car. He raced from 1989 to 2007.

Asked about the importance of being motivated to meet a goal, Walton said, “It’s huge. If someone’s motivated, it makes things easier for me because those are really the only kind of people I want to work with. But you can have the most scientifically laid out training plan and nutrition, but if you go about it half-assed, you’re not going to get results.”

Tompkins said it’s a win-win “if I can get healthy and we can make her healthy again.”

On Tuesday, he wrote on the Air For Ash Facebook page, “I got to meet Ash for the first time. Was amazing. My drive got even better. I won’t let this girl down. And I had tears talking to her and her family.”

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