By Shawn Chitnis

STRASBURG, Colo. (CBS4) – Students and teachers at Pickens Technical College entered the Weld It Forward contest, taking on a personal project to build a proper ramp for one of their own.

They installed it at his house on Friday so he can easily go in and out while using a wheelchair.

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“My body was all twisted up,” said Noah Williams, 18, a student at Pickens. “I remember the fire department putting a blanket over my head and the fire department starting to cut me out of my truck.”

Williams was driving his truck in January 2017 when he was hit by a semi and paralyzed.  He is still adjusting to using a wheelchair and says there are challenges on a daily basis. As a welding student, he was focused on a career in that trade. But after the crash, he wasn’t sure about his future.

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“Every day is a new day, a new struggle,” said Williams. “There’s always something that’s going to get in my way regardless of how the day goes.”

He says beyond the physical limitations, it is the mental drain and the need to remain positive that is the hardest part of his new reality. One of the many difficulties was at his own home. The ramp he was using, made out of wood, didn’t have enough room for him to turn his chair as well as enough space for him to open and close the door.

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“The whole class kind of surrounds around Noah,” said Jeff Oliver, a teacher at Pickens. “His attitude is contagious and he’s taught us a lot.”

Oliver has been a welding instructor at the technical college for 15 years. This is the first time he has worked with a student like Williams, that needed the curriculum adjusted so he could continue in the program. Oliver also learned about a student contest called “Weld It Forward,” promoted by ESAB, a welding equipment and supplies company.

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Williams suggested that they build a ramp for the challenge.  First they had to write an essay explaining their vision for the contest. They advanced to the next round and spent the last few months designing as well as building the finished product. They had to use certain pieces in their project given to them by ESAB. It made building the ramp even more complicated than they initially imagined.

The team at Pickens was selected to be among six finalists in the country. They received equipment to build their ramp and will get to keep it. Now they are competing for the grand prize.

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“I get to work with young creative minds on a daily basis,” said Oliver. “To watch Noah do what he did and succeed and then watch how the class took on No ah’s character of not being stopped.”

Oliver and the students loaded up the ramp Friday morning from their welding shop in Aurora. They drove out to Strasburg to set up the ramp for Williams at his home. After a few adjustments to secure it to the house, Williams was already using it by the end of the morning. Immediately he could notice the difference by changing directions at any point on the ramp and stopping at the top to access the door.

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An emotional moment they all took in and celebrated along with family and friends.

“You are on one amazing teacher, buddy,” Amy Williams, Noah’s mom, said while fighting back tears to Oliver. “You look out for my son each and every day. You guys are awesome. You guys are the reason he keeps going every day.”

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Williams also took a moment to thank his friends and classmates for taking on this challenge with him.

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“I wouldn’t be standing on this if it weren’t for you guys,” he said before his friends teased him about being in the chair. “Sitting on it.”

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Noah Williams (credit: CBS)

The ramp will not only improve his life each day but will also serve as a reminder of what is possible and what he is capable of as a professional welder.

“I feel really great about it all. I feel like I can actually go places after doing this project,” said Williams. “I really do see myself as a welder again in the future.”

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In the spirit of the Weld It Forward contest and the saying to always “Pay It Forward,” Williams is already thinking about how he can take on similar projects to help others with needs just like him. Another goal is to teach at his school so he can have an impact on future students.

“It’s kind of nice to have people to go out of their way to make something to make your life better,” said Williams. “Welding is so much more than just personal benefit. What we do impacts people’s lives every day.”

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While one aspect of his life may be a little easier, he still looks to others for help on a regular basis. He is currently working to get one of his dogs trained to be a service animal. There is a GoFundMe for that goal: https://www.gofundme.com/noah-service-dog.

The students now have to wait to find out if they will win $20,000 in equipment to make over their shop as winners of the “Weld It Forward” contest.

“l tell myself every day I’m ‘handi-capable,’ I’m not handicapped,” he said. “You can’t let things hold you back, you have to keep pushing yourself.”

LINK: Weld It Forward Contest

Pickens Technical College Submission

Shawn Chitnis reports for CBS4 News at 10 on weekends and CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. throughout the week. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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