Inside the Lithia Superstore showroom, a man from a local substitute teacher's past appeared for her present.
Thanks to a national wellness sweepstakes, Traci Nathaniel Walker of Ashland won the Dodge Challenger muscle car of her dreams Saturday afternoon. As she got behind the wheel for the first time, TV personality Darren Kavinoky surprised her with the keys.
Walker's new car was the grand prize in the "What's My Win" contest that Kavinoky promoted earlier this year by jogging, biking and roller-blading his way from California to New York. Walker and Kavinoky also just happened to have graduated from Ashland High School a year apart.
Walker said she's followed Kavinoky's TV career for years. Aside from his fitness journey, Kavinoky hosts the nonfiction true crime drama series "Deadly Sins" on Investigation Discovery channel and appears as a TV legal correspondent on CNN and syndicated news programs. He also owns a chain of California criminal defense law firms known as 1-800-NoCuffs with commercials that appear throughout Southern California.
"Your hometown is totally proud of you," Walker told Kavinoky.
Until Saturday, Walker hadn't been so fortunate. She said she entered the contest after committing to rest and relaxation exercises to combat stress that exacerbates her Meniere's disease, a rare inner ear disorder that impaired her hearing and impacted her ability to work in 2013. Other setbacks in her life have included her teen daughter undergoing brain surgery in 2014 and a foreclosure.
"It nearly broke me," Walker said. "I'm a different, better person."
The contest's organizer, Golden Image Enterprises, encouraged participants to take small steps, called "wins," to improve their wellness and share them on social media. From there, participants entered to win prizes, spinning a virtual wheel on the website. The contest was funded through sponsorships from health-focused companies such as Garmin and Higi.
Two weeks ago, organizers from Golden Image Enterprises contacted Walker to tell her she'd won the grand prize: $30,000 to spend on the car of her choice. She didn't believe it at first.
"How do I know this is legit?" she remembered asking them. She said she rarely enters contests.
Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge manager David Dobrin arranged the somewhat unusual sale. It's not, however, the first time he's come across a new car winner. Two months ago someone won $25,000 cash at the dealership through a dealership scratch-off mail sweepstakes.
Getting the exact car Walker wanted proved a bit complex, Dobrin said. She asked for black, a sunroof and a V8 — a combination that stickers above the $30,000 gift certificate. But the dealership found a 2016 Challenger R/T equipped with a HEMI with less than 7,000 miles on Craigslist, inspected it and detailed it before Walker took delivery Saturday.
"We wanted to do everything we could to get her the car she wanted," Dobrin said.
Walker said that picking the exact car she always wanted changed her perspective in profound ways.
"I'm going to start acting instead of waiting," Walker said.
Seeing the impact had meaning for Kavinoky as well. He said that during his run across the country, which morphed to other self-powered transportation following health setbacks, was a bit like "planting seeds" of inspiration.
"You don't get to stick around to see the bloom," Kavinoky said.
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.