CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- The annual Cooper River Bridge Run is on-track for March 27th, 2021. Despite a rocky last year, race officials say the theme is staying optimistic, including this year’s design.
Joe Wilhite is the first ever two-time winner of the design contest. The former US Marine says he is still in shock that he won again.
“When they brought out the winner, my heart dropped, I couldn’t believe it. Because honestly I thought I would have to go another year and submit again. I didn’t think I had any chance of winning twice in a row,” he says.
Wilhite’s design last year ended up on t-shirts, keychains, posters and even billboards. He still recalls his first glance at his artwork on soaring high above I-26.
“When I saw it the first time, I almost wrecked! I pulled over right away and I got out and just sat there for about an hour and just looked at it as all the cars passed by,” he says.
Race Director Irv Batting says working with Wilhite has been a joy over the last year.
“He’s such a cool guy and we’ve had fun with him over the last year. He submitted another piece of art and it’s such an honor that he was the two time winner that we’ve never had before,” says Batting.
Wilhite says he never dreamed of doing art full time. It wasn’t until he was injured during his time as a Marine that he was given the chance to pursue his passion.
“I was able to partake in the voc-rehab program and they sent me back to school. To have the Marine Corp give me this opportunity to go back and do my dream. Since then I don’t feel like I’ve worked a day in my life,” he says.
His design for the 2021 race is quite different than last years. Wilhite says he “rolled the dice” and tried to step out of his comfort zone. The biggest theme seen throughout the piece is hope.
“I added the butterflies as a symbol of hope, and I used our state flower, the yellow jessamine and the magnolias because I wanted to bring a bright, spring, new beginning kind of feel. Next year is a new year, a new start, a new beginning, and we’re going to make 2021 the best year ever,” says Wilhite.
Wilhite is also finding new beginnings in his own life. He says one of his biggest goals after going back to school was to one day teach art. He recently was offered a job as an art teacher; where he can pass along his passion to others.