In May, James Worden lost his legs when a car crashed into the on-duty South Carolina Department of Transportation worker, trapping him between two vehicles.
What the 58-year-old McMormick, S.C., man never lost, however, was hope - even through six weeks of strenuous therapy and surgery that medical professionals say would break anyone's spirit.
"It was rough," Mr. Worden confesses. "But I told my wife I was blessed because I had my hands and my eyes and my sense of humor."
Generally considered a man of few words, Mr. Worden credits his faith in the Lord, rather than himself, for his recovery.
But those who worked with him at Walton Rehabilitation Hospital had dozens of wonderful things to say about him as they gave him the Triumph Award for Rehabilitation Success on Thursday.
The awards program has been a tradition for five years at Walton, honoring people who have made an impact on the disabled community.
"Very quickly, his underlying strength became an inspiration to employees and clients," Dennis Skelley, Walton's CEO, said of Mr. Worden.
"The other patients would watch him in awe and wonder 'How could this man do the things that he accomplished ... and they would say, 'If he can do it, I can do it, too.'"
With Mr. Worden's "no-quit attitude," he has been able to accomplish his goal of functioning independently, not to mention returning to his workshop to continue his hobby of making grills, according to Mr. Skelley.
"Some are reluctant and apprehensive about the rehabilitation process because they fear the unknown," Mr. Skelley said. "But this nominee exhibited no fear even though his future was unknown. ... We at Walton have been blessed to learn from him, not by talk, but by his example."
As expected, Mr. Worden's acceptance speech remained brief.
He offered thanks and simply advised, "Don't let up - don't ever let up."
On Thursday, two other Triumph awards were presented, one to an outstanding advocate for the disabled and another to an outstanding Walton employee.
Willie Jones, a visually impaired golfer, won in the first category.
Among his accomplishments, Mr. Jones challenged more than 100 able-bodied golfers to tee off against him, which Mr. Skelley said "really opened their eyes" to the plight of the blind.
He also traveled to Nigeria last spring to help provide resources to blind citizens who would otherwise have to beg for money on street corners.
"This year's winner, who has caddied for champions, is a champion," Mr. Skelley said.
Angela Griffin, who received the award for outstanding employee, was brought to tears when Mr. Skelley spoke of her humbleness and generosity.
Ms. Griffin has been a counselor to children with brain injuries, a mentor to physical therapy students and a board member for numerous community groups.
"She's not usually the one to recognize her own contributions," he said. "Rather, she has nominated numerous coworkers for this award, believing others more deserving ... really, her contributions would fill many books."
Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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