By Margie Wuebker
Life dealt Tim Wurster an unexpected blow. He lost his brother as well as the use of his legs in a car crash along a rural Mercer County road.
The tragedy that occurred on a warm spring night 20 years ago ultimately became a stepping stone to a career aimed at helping people, particularly teenagers dealing with peer pressure, decisions, consequences and goals.
"Your life can change in the blink of an eye," the educator and licensed social worker says patting the arms of his motorized wheelchair. "The accident should never have happened. I made a wrong decision and now I live with the consequences."
The 41-year Wurster of Celina sighs as memories of May 26, 1985, come flooding back. Weeks shy of his 21st birthday, he had gone to a popular hangout and downed some beers with the rest of the crowd. He eventually wound up in a car with four older guys, including his 23-year-old brother.
"Nobody made me get in the car; I made the decision knowing we had all been drinking. Troy was a frontseat passenger and I was sitting in back. The car was going really fast and that's the last thing I remember." Newspaper accounts indicate the crash occurred at 2:20 a.m. on Mud Pike west of Celina. The eastbound car veered off the right side of the pavement as it approached Township Line Road. It traveled back across the road, struck the ditch and sheared off a utility pole and two small trees. It flipped onto the right side after hitting a big tree before coming to rest on its wheels in a nearby field.
All five occupants were ejected. Wurster's brother was pronounced dead at the scene while the driver died later at a Lima hospital.
Wurster never heard the wail of an ambulance siren or helicopter blades slicing through the air as CareFlight left Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater bound for Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. He had sustained a head injury and a broken neck. His back and arm sustained multiple fractures. Tests indicated the spinal cord had sustained irreparable damage.
He regained consciousness on the Fourth of July only to discover his brother was gone. That was more difficult to accept than losing the ability to walk.
"Troy had always been my hero," Wurster says matter of factly. "We used to sleep together as kids. I would put my foot against his leg just to make sure he was still there in the middle of the night."
In the midst of overwhelming grief, Wurster felt his brother's presence spurring him to make something positive out of a bad situation.
The life he had known took an abrupt turn and he ultimately registered at Wright State University -- the first step in earning associate degrees in communication and pre-social work and a bachelor's degree in social work.
He achieved the goal of becoming a licensed social worker and also turned to public speaking, sharing his story and talking about dealing with the consequences of an unfortunate decision.
"One choice can change your life forever," he says. "Nobody wants to pay the consequences; you need to think of the crap before it happens. If you make a choice and mess up your life, you can still go on and turn something bad into something good."
More than 100,000 students and young adults have heard his story since the first presentation in 1990. His wheelchair has taken him to elementary classrooms, high school gymnasiums and meeting halls throughout Ohio.
He tailors presentations to suit the audience. His three-point tips, complete with bouncing basketballs and swishing net, teach young people the importance of giving life their best shot, setting goals and netting what they know.
"Man, it must suck to be in a wheelchair," one youth told him following the moving program.
Wurster thought a moment before replying, "This chair is my legs; it gets me where I want to go. I could lie in bed or simply rot at the home of my parents (Neal and Shyla Wurster). I have chosen to do something with my life."
He also offers lessons on treating handicapped people with dignity -- lessons he has learned first-hand from people who go out of their way to avoid someone in a wheelchair because they simply do not know what to say. Others equate the use of a wheelchair with a marked decrease in intellect -- an assumption that could not be further from the truth.
Most recently employed as a prevention coordinator by The Alcohol & Chemical Abuse Council of Butler County, he moved back to Celina earlier this year and signed up as a substitute teacher in the area. He is keeping his options open when it comes to a full-time position and awaiting the completion of a new home along East Livingston Street.
"Life is filled with twists and turns," he says. "You never know what lurks beyond the next curve."