From a young age, Erica Stotler had plenty to complain about. At 8, she learned she had rheumatoid arthritis, the first of a series of diagnoses that meant a life filled with pain.
But people remembering her this week say that up until her death Nov. 10, at her husband's side, she remained focused on helping others feel better. Facing debilitating illness — and having been hospitalized since February — the 37-year-old never had the patience for complaints.
"She always looked at the positive in life," says Kevin Stotler, her husband of 10 years. "She wasn't feeling well, she was tired — she didn't let it get her down."
Stotler dedicated much of her life to raising awareness about arthritis through her support group and becoming a mentor through the Virginia chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, which holds an annual Jingle Bell Run/Walk in Richmond. She worked at Richmond Region Tourism for 10 years, bringing an energy that's been missing since she left in February, Executive Director Jack Berry says.
Stotler thrived on work and advocacy, close friend Jennie Araujo Wood says. Stotler was proud of being named to Style's Top 40 Under 40 list in 2009, and the next year she trained and ran in the Jingle Bell Run 5-K. But her daughter, Lotus, who is 7, trumped all.
"Her life revolved around Lotus," Wood says. "I've never seen someone put so much energy into a child."
Wood met Stotler through Twitter four years ago. They became friends, and Stotler was there when Wood learned of her own arthritic autoimmune illness.
"It wasn't until then I knew how much pain she was in," Wood says. "She was always there. She held my hand through all of the diagnoses. She was the best possible person to have at your side."
While Stotler managed her pain for almost three decades, she took a turn for the worse last year. Over her husband's protests, Stotler said she knew she was dying.
"She started telling Lotus these life lessons," Stotler says. "She was saying: 'Don't let people push you around. Be a leader. If there's something you want, go for it.'"
Her friends and colleagues say Stotler's positive attitude will extend beyond her life, which will be memorialized during this year's Jingle Bell Run/Walk on Dec. 6.
"A big thing that's been going around our house is that Erica is still with us right now, she's just going by a different name," her husband says. "Her name is Lotus. Her looks, her attitude — she is definitely her mom."