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by Natalie Kennedy

COUDERSPORT – Life threw some challenges at Paul Erway. Instead of giving into those obstacles, Erway takes on bigger and harder challenges that expand his life.

Erway, a graduate of Coudersport High School, was a week from graduation at Morrisville State University of New York when he was paralyzed in a 1980 car accident. At the time, he was an apprentice in a horse reining stable and planned to make that his career.

His life took another direction, in part due to the challenges he has set for himself. One of those challenges is the topic of a three-book series. He released the first book, “50 Abilities, Unlimited Possibilities: Wheeling Through 50 States: From Jackson to the Boston Marathon Bombing,” in October 2017.

“Life will throw you under the bus, but you still need to get back up, pull yourself together because there are still some great things that can happen and you can do great things,” said Erway. The book details the challenge that Erway and fellow wheelchair marathoners, Grant Berthiaume and Aaron Roux, set for themselves after completing a race in Oita, Japan.

Someone mentioned that marathoners will try to complete a marathon in every state.

“So we said, OK, there are 50 states and 52 weeks in a year. What if we do it that quickly?” he said.

With the challenge set, planning began in 2010. The trio attended the first marathon in January 2013, but even then found a challenge within a challenge. Some of the race dates from 2010 either changed, conflicted with other events or were no longer held. Yet they persevered, found alternate marathons and revised their plans.

Erway worked full time for during the year-long challenge. A high school athlete, he began wheelchair racing after a fellow student in a wheelchair challenged him to a race. The other racer was at the finish line before Erway completed half the race.

“Right than, that fire burned inside. I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to be in this chair, I’m going to push it as fast as I can,’” he said.

But the fire faded in 1992 after he failed to make the Paralympic team. He stopped racing until 2004, when his mentor challenged him to pick it back up again.

In 2006, a second accident while training for the Boston Marathon resulted in Erway receiving a broken scapula, collarbone, two ribs, punctured lung, spinal compression fracture, tore away part of his scalp and burns to his back. After one helicopter ride, two hospital stays, three rehab stints, four operations and five months out of work, Erway returned to racing.

His book, “50 Abilities,” details the first 14 marathons the trio completed, ending with the Boston Marathon and taking off for home just minutes before the bomb exploded. He tells stories behind the scenes, of meeting with other athletes with disabilities and inspiring one another.

“Even though I myself thought I had a purpose with horses, all that was geared toward me,” said Erway. “But once I found out the more people you can help, the more you will be blessed. That’s just what I want to do, help more people. I’m actually blessed I had this first accident.”

The book sells for $20. The second book is scheduled for release this October and the final one in October 2019.

For more information, visit www.50abilitymarathons.com.