BETHEL, OH (FOX19) - A paralympian visiting family in Bethel made a heartbreaking discovery over the weekend.
Phoenix native Erik Hightower had his custom racing wheelchair stolen from the parking lot of an area hospital. He says his $5,000 chair was stolen from his cousin's truck while it was parked at Anderson Hospital in Anderson Township.
Now, he's just trying to get back what's so near and dear to his heart.
Hightower was born with spina bifida, and took a liking to wheelchair racing 20 years ago.
"I'm a paralympic wheelchair racer. We have events all over the U.S., all over the world," said Hightower.
Just a few days ago, the Phoenix native finished his last, and one of his most special races, of the season in Indianapolis. He posted a time that is now an American record in the 100-meter race. He did it in his brand new, custom wheelchair.
"I want to keep racing. I just broke a record. I want to break more records. Without my chair, I can't do that," said Hightower.
That's because his chair was stolen from his cousin's vehicle while parked at a local hospital.
"They were there for maybe an hour. They came back out, and they told us the chair was gone," Hightower told FOX19.
The chair is custom with an aluminum body and carbon fiber wheels built just for Hightower.
"To me, it cost me $5,000 to get it. But, to anybody else, it really has no value," said Hightower.
At 28-years old, he's raced all over the world, including the paralympic games in Beijing in 2008. Though his season is over, losing his wheelchair is jeopardizing his dreams.
"Hopefully it won't set me back too long. The top guys in the world, they're training every day. I need to be out there training every day so the next Paralympic Games in 2016, I can beat all these top guys," Hightower told FOX19.
To do that, he's asking for one thing.
"I don't want to press charges or anything. I just want my chair back," he said.
Hightower got hooked on racing 20 years ago. He's currently training at an Olympic training center in San Diego. His race schedule next year includes competition in Toronto and Qatar.
Hightower has raced just twice with his new chair, and is still working to pay it off. If he doesn't get it back, he'll have to find $5,000 more to buy another.
He has since filed a report with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.