Wounded veterans are getting free gym memberships and home exercise equipment, thanks to a nonprofit group founded by a Homeland woman, whose brother was killed in Afghanistan in 2009.
Lynn Coffland's shoestring organization, the Catch A Lift Fund, has helped about 125 veterans so far, but lacks the funding to accommodate hundreds more applications that it has on file, she said.
“It's been a struggle,” said Coffland, an interior decorator, who is organizing a fundraiser Sept. 8 at the restaurant Kali's Court in downtown Baltimore. But she added, “We definitely have money to keep moving.”
Coffland and Catch A Lift were honored Monday during the annual Memorial Day observance at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in the Lutherville-Timonium area. The event also honored seven soldiers who gave their lives to their country. Those in attendance included State Sens. Jim Brochin and Del. Susan Aumann, both of Baltimore County, and Richard “Rick” Lane, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs.
Serving as a master of ceremonies was Alan Walden, of Cross Keys, a WBAL commentator and former news anchor, who chairs the Baltimore Council of the Navy League of the United States and has attended the Memorial Day event at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens for the past 25 years.
“We’re here to honor those who gave their last full measure of devotion,” Walden said.
“Let us always recognize the nobility of military service,” Lane said.
“I am here as a sister, who has suffered a great loss,” Coffland, 54, president and founder of Catch A Lift, told a crowd that organizers estimated at 1,300 to 1,500. But she added, “Through great loss comes great gain.”
Coffland's brother, U.S. Army Cpl. Christopher Coffland, a Gilman School graduate, was killed in November 2009, at age 43, when a tank he was riding in was blown up in the Tanghi Valley region of Afghanistan. Chris Coffland was honored at the 2010 Memorial Day event at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.
Earlier this month, his alma mater, Washington and Lee University in Virginia, where he starred in lacrosse and football, put up a plaque in his honor, his sister said.
Lynn Coffland said her brother, the youngest of five children and “the best of all of us,” was a well-traveled researcher and “Renaissance man,” who fancied himself an artist, athlete and philosopher, and who was studying for a Ph.D. in Anthropology. He enlisted a month before his 41st birthday, the Army's age cutoff date, his sister said.
“He always had a passion to serve his country. He was extremely patriotic and felt the call of duty,” Lynn Coffland said.
The Catch A Lift Fund is named for an expression that her brother used when he went to the gym to work out every day.
“He'd say, 'I'm going to catch a lift,'“ she told the Messenger. “He always had a saying for something.”
Coffland said she started Catch A Lift because her brother emphasized health, fitness and passion as an important part of life. She said whenever he saw her daughter, Zoe Guill, now 13, he would tell her to “get down and give me 20” pushups.
In an email shortly before his death, he told his sister, “Find what your passion is about and do it. Keep it real,” she said.
Gym memberships, which on average cost $750 a year, are essential to helping severely injured or disabled soldiers socialize, but home equipment is important too, because many veterans are too physically injured or scarred psychologically by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to leave home.
She told one story about a spouse who called her, pleading for some of the gym equipment for her husband, who suffered brain injuries in combat and has been diagnosed as likely to get dementia.
In death, Chris Coffland, through his sister’s work, is giving surviving veterans hope, “helping lift them up to heal,” she said, adding that she hopes to grow the organization enough to hire a staff.
She told the audience Monday, “As my brother would have said, “Catch a lift.”