Sometimes life can change in an instant.Shelly Swafford, choir teacher at Fossil Hill Middle School, knows that axiom better than most. She had “the opportunity a lifetime” because she saw a billboard last fall on Interstate 35.The billboard said that the Wheelmobile for the game show “Wheel of Fortune” would be in the Dallas area the week before Thanksgiving. The Wheelmobile, a 39-foot recreational vehicle with traveling versions of the wheel and the game board, hosts events all over the country to recruit contestants.“I’ve always watched ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and been pretty good at guessing the puzzles at home,” Swafford said. She decided to visit the Wheelmobile at Southfork Ranch in Dallas to try her luck at becoming a contestant.Thousands of people showed up and filled out cards. Names were drawn from a large drum, five at a time, for people to come to the stage and solve puzzles. After the first session went by without Swafford’s name being called, her 9-year-old daughter, Mackenzie Applin, was getting bored and restless.Swafford asked her to be patient through one more session and then they would go do something. Swafford’s name was drawn in the third to the last group of five for that session. She tried to follow the directions to speak clearly, be energetic and be quick to answer. From the event, the show organizers picked 150 people to come back for a closed audition in Dallas in January. After some practice rounds, 70 people were taken into a room to do a few more rounds and take a written test. At the end, they were told if they were one of the 20 contestants chosen from the Dallas area, they would receive a letter within two weeks.On the fourteenth day, Swafford finally received a letter. When she showed Mackenzie the envelope with the “Wheel of Fortune” return address, the two jumped up and down and screamed.Meanwhile, Swafford’s students were waiting eagerly to find out if she was picked for the show and another four months to learn the taping would be in July. Throughout the spring, students brought in hangman puzzles for her to solve. She also played “Wheel of Fortune” on her phone, watched the show each night, did crossword puzzles and practiced interviews in front of the mirror.When the appointed day finally arrived, Swafford, part of the show’s Teachers’ Week, found the experience to be less daunting than she thought.“Everyone who worked at the studio was so kind and gentle and caring,” she said. “They made all the contestants feel very special and just privileged to be there.”One makeup artist stopped into the green room where the three contestants waited to go on stage and told them to never give up because the game could change on a single spin.Swafford remembered those words when she found herself in third place during an early round. She kept playing and a single turn earned her a dream trip to Italy and thousands of dollars. Swafford ended up with about $28,000 in cash and the trip worth $10,000. She was the big winner of the day, and although she didn’t solve the puzzle in the bonus round—the phrase was “power pack”—she was thrilled with her haul.The money will allow her to replace her 2001 Mitsubishi Gallant which has almost 200,000 miles on it and treat her daughter to a spring break road trip before going to Italy next summer with a friend.Swafford had to keep quiet about her good fortune until after the show aired Oct. 2. The next day, Fossil Hill Middle School was abuzz with excitement over seeing one of their own on the popular game show.Calvin Franz, an eighth grader who was in Swafford’s home room class last year, stopped by her room to congratulate her. “I was very excited because I’d never seen anyone I knew personally on TV,” Calvin said. “It was very awesome.”Savannah Cordova, an eighth grader in the treble choir, said she was impressed that her teacher knew just what to do to solve puzzles. She looked like “a professional.”Swafford said she hoped she inspired her students to pursue their dreams.“With that one spin of the wheel, the game totally changed for me,” she said. “That’s what I want my students to understand, even if things are not going as they planned. Don’t give up because things can change in an instant.”Swafford was thrilled to be asked to write the post of the week on the “Wheel of Fortune” contestant blog: http://www.wheeloffortune.com/contestants/contestantblogs.