After months of relying on others to drive him around, Steve Herbst will finally be able to get behind the wheel again -- and this time, in a new car.
Herbst, a quadriplegic who was paralyzed while playing football at Palatine High School in 1980, was presented with the keys to a new wheelchair-accessible Honda Odyssey Wednesday at Mobility Works in Villa Park.
Herbst found out he won the vehicle in June, when he was named one of three winners of the Local Heroes Contest sponsored by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, Vantage Mobility International and San Tan Honda.
Before he got inside the shiny, black minivan, Herbst offered words of thanks to the more than 30 friends and family members who attended the unveiling of the car.
"It's very humbling, and we're very, very appreciative," he said. "It gets us back out there doing stuff. It gets me carting the kids around to their activities so we don't miss any of that."
Herbst made the decision to stop driving his old wheelchair-accessible van in March, after he got into a rear-end accident due to the loss of hand strength needed to use that vehicle's mechanical controls.
The new van includes a ramp that comes out of the floor and flooring that won't get worn down by the wheels on Herbst's wheelchair.
"Just seeing it is like, holy cow, it's real," Herbst said. "It's very exciting to see it, and it's a beautiful car."
About 1,200 people entered the Local Heroes Contest, Herbst said. The semifinalists were narrowed down by public votes, and he said without the support of the community he would have never been a contender for the van.
"It was very humbling to think about the fact that people woke up and thought about me, the very first thing they did every day (was vote)," he said. "Without the votes we would have never made it to the second round."
A panel of health care professionals ultimately picked the three winners, which also included residents of Lexington, Ky., and Victoria, British Columbia, in Canada.
Sue Herbst said she is excited her husband will be able to drive again on a daily basis -- everywhere from his job as a technology manager for Allstate in Northbrook to basketball, football, baseball and dance practices for their 8-year-old twins.
"We're overwhelmed. We are unbelievably grateful and thankful because Steve is a dad and he drives the kids around," she said. "It really was a change, with him not being able to drive, so this is a blessing."