What started as a quick errand for Rose Darwell turned into a 12-day ordeal that left her confined to a car, guards monitoring her every move.
The Newport News resident was dropping off her husband, Gary, and a friend at the Landstown Commons Yaris Endurance Giveaway, when she got drawn into the competition with them.
"I was supposed to be their gopher, getting the things they wanted and then I could go home," she said. "Instead, I got to sit in the car and make do with what I could get my hands on."
Darwell was one of four participants in the contest who spent about two weeks in a 2008 Toyota Yaris.
Each contestant had his own car to call "home" during the competition, which began May 26 and ended with a winner being picked at random on Friday, June 13.
The winner turned out to be Pastor Mark Wilkinson, a friend of the Darwells, who was visiting from Florida.
"I have never won a contest like this before," Pastor Wilkinson said. "The last thing I won was a hot-dog eating contest."
The 2008 Silver Yaris - with its 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine - is a tad more pricey at $13,000 to $15,800.
"I'm elated," Wilkinson said. "I'm glad I was talked into doing this."
The contest was sponsored by the Landstown Commons Shopping Center, radio station 97.3 The Eagle and First Team Toyota.
The four contestants were chosen from among 20 who responded to the radio station's on-air and online announcements.
Rose Darwell became a contestant when one of the original four was ruled out because smoking was not permitted.
Regulations stated that contestants had to remain in the vehicle at all times, excluding sanctioned breaks. They were only allowed to take certain items in the car: a blanket, one change of clothes, a set of toiletries, an iPod and headphones, a laptop and one book.
"Since we were only allowed to take one book, I thought I should make the best choice possible," said Gary Darwell, 53. "The Bible."
Darwell, who is retired, chose not to bring a laptop and made do with the radio and a handheld television. At 6 foot 3 and 225 pounds, Darwell said he was initially concerned about staying in the car for so long. But he soon figured out how to adjust the seats and his position to sleep.
"I even have back problems and they have been just fine," he said about halfway through the competition. "I am in it to win it."
Contestants were not allowed to smoke, eat or drink in the car. In addition, they had to maintain good hygiene and keep the car clean. During the sanctioned breaks, participants could eat, shower, use the rest room and exercise, if they chose.
To pass the time, Pastor Mark Wilkinson, (a pastor at SalvationFirst Ministries) who lives in Fort Myers, Florida, read his Bible, conducted business on his cell phone and got caught up on some work with his laptop.
Pastor Wilkinson, who was visiting the Darwells when he heard about the contest, said his car was hit in early May. He didn't have full coverage insurance, which left him without a car. So he decided to join Gary Darwell in his quest to win one.
Contestant Scott Toupin, 34, of Pembroke Meadows also stayed busy during his time in the car. His parents live in the area and stopped by regularly to keep him company.
"I taught myself how to do card tricks," said Toupin, who is unemployed. "I even went online and did some job searching."
Toupin bicycled down the street to a friend's house to take showers on his breaks.
Toupin, who plans to attend Norfolk State University for electronic engineering, said he thought the effort would make "a great bullet point" on his resume. "It shows I have determination," he said.
Gerry Reust, president of First Team Toyota in Chesapeake, said the contest "generated a lot of interest in the car, and people love to be part of stuff like this.
"It's always fun to see people win something big."
The rules allowed contestants to run the cars. For several days, temperatures hovered around 100 degrees.
Even with the air conditioning on, Rose Darwell was hot - and she picked up a sunburn.
The contestants and their efforts to stay sane during their more than 300 hours in cars also was broadcast on the FM radio station.
"Contests like these are always a huge success," said John Shomby, director of production for Max Media Properties and The Eagle 97.3.
"Anyone who gives up two weeks of their life to live in a car is worth going to see. They have definitely drawn a crowd."
People shopping at the area stores all came to see what was going on. Some drove by and beeped their horns. Others stopped to talk to them. Local store owners would visit and supply the contestants with encouragement and treats.
After two weeks, the four were still camped in cars. It was time to turn some keys.
When three contestants tried, and none worked, Toupin - by process of elimination - thought he won.
Everyone cheered and congratulated him. Everyone yelled for him to get in and start his new car but when he tried, the key didn't work.
Someone had not turned his key all the way.
The contestants reshuffled the keys, picked anew and tried again. This time, Wilkinson's key started the car.
Barely able to hold back the tears, he shared his surprise and gratitude on Eagle 97.3 just after winning.
"I believe if you start a race, you should be able to finish it," Pastor Wilkinson said. "God helped me finish this."
( This is the prayer I posted to The SalvationFirst PrayerWheel )
Because all four contestants rode it out to the end, the Goodman Co., a sponsor, awarded the remaining three with cash prizes: Gary Darwell won $2,000 for second place; Scott Toupin took $1,500 in third place; and Rose Darwell won $1,000 for fourth place.
"They have all been so diligent in their efforts to win," said John W. Dowd, senior vice president of development for the Goodwin Co., which developed Landstown Commons. "We thought no one should leave empty-handed."
Wilkinson once again had a car to call his own - after paying taxes, title and tags, which tallied about $800.
(SPECIALNOTE: Pastor Mark donated the Silver Yaris to SalvationFirst Ministries. )
Here is a link to another story about this event: Our Father Answers Prayers