Christopher Coffland was a fitness enthusiast, world traveler and lover of life, according to friends and family. The Timonium native played football at the Gilman School, pursued a doctorate in anthropology at Washington State and traveled the world.
He joined the Army in 2007 at age 41 to beat the age deadline for enlistment, which was then 42, The Baltimore Sun reported. Two years later, Coffland was killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb on Nov. 13, 2009, said his sister, Lynn Coffland.
Years later, Cpl. Christopher Coffland’s friends and family will gather on Nov. 13 — the ninth anniversary of his death – to dedicate a bridge across Loch Raven Reservoir on Dulaney Valley Road, said Coffland, of Baltimore. Signs bearing his name were erected on each end of the bridge last week.
For Lynn Coffland, the bridge represents the longevity of her brother’s influence, the way he continues to touch lives.
“It was a really humbling moment to see my brother’s name be put on a sign that I know will be there for as long as that bridge exists,” Coffland said.
The bridge dedication was a project of the Catch A Lift Fund, a nonprofit founded by Lynn Coffland a year after her brother’s death. The Timonium-based organization provides fitness grants and mentorship to veterans to help them acclimate to civilian life.It’s motto is “Changing Bodies, Healing Minds, Saving Lives,” according to the website, catchaliftfund.org.
Veterans can choose fitness programs or gym memberships that suit them to help heal mentally and physically, from Jujitsu to CrossFit, Coffland said. The company provides home equipment and matches veterans with a former program participant certified as a coach to help with nutrition, meal planning and workout programing.
“We started it on [Christopher’s] own philosophy that through physical fitness, he believed you could achieve your highest level of mental and physical abilities,” Coffland said.
Coffland said the bridge dedication could not have happened without support from veterans who have benefited from Catch A Lift Fund, and who worked to prepare the application and petition for the Maryland State Highway Administration’s permission to name the state road.
That approval was granted after a June 6 SHA hearing, according to a press release.
Rob Fessock, of Orlando, Fla., a 16-year retired Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who benefited from Catch A Lift Fund while living in Baltimore, helped prepare the application by writing a biography of Christopher Coffland and his character and accomplishments.
“He’s a guy I would definitely hang out with if I knew him,” Fessock said. “He seemed like a fun, intelligent person. He was open to all cultures, which is a great thing.”
Fessock said CAL worked with him on running has improved his own quality of life by keeping him active and motivated. The program, he said, has “saved the lives of thousands of veterans.”
Fessock came back from the wars with depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and said he suffered from the loss of camaraderie after leaving the military.
Catch A Lift Fund’s program, which provided coaching and support, got Fessock exercising every day, giving him a “sense of purpose.” Fessock praised Lynn Coffland’s work with the organization, saying she “keeps the memory of her brother alive.”
Fessock said the bridge dedication is “long overdue.”
“Every civilian and military member that crosses that bridge knows that he served his nation and made the ultimate sacrifice,” Fessock said.
Matthew Wood, of Baltimore, said in a statement, “For myself and those of us who benefited from a CAL grant, it was a small gesture to let his family know how much of a difference this program has made in our lives.”
The veteran said he participated in a CrossFit peer program and nutrition counseling, and that the services have made him a “much more pleasant person to be around.”
Wood also never met Christopher Coffland, “but if I did I’m sure he would have been just as motivating in life as he is in memory,” he said.
The bridge that now bears Christopher Coffland’s name was among the Army corporal’s favorite fishing spots while growing up in Timonium, his sister said.
“It’ll be very simple, like he was. He liked things very simple,” Lynn Coffland said. The soldier’s family and friends will be there [for the dedication] and the public is invited to attend to say the pledge of allegiance together. The gathering is tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m.
The dedication will be “pretty emotional,” Coffland said.
“I know that many veterans have died before him and will continue to afterwards,” Coffland said. “To know that he’s up there as long as that bridge will stand the test of time —he can represent those that came before or after who don’t have a sign. He’d like that.”