In 2007, when Chris Coffland joined the Army Reserve at the age of 41 -- just shy of the cutoff age -- he was looking to do something with meaning. He had already lived an amazing life, and he wanted to give back to his country.
He starred at Gilman and Washington & Lee in football and lacrosse. He studied anthropology in Africa and played pro football in Finland. He didn't concern himself with material possessions, and he often caught rides to the gym with friends.
"He believed that fitness could change you mentally and physically for the better," his sister, Lynn Coffland, said. "He beat many fitness records at Fort Meade during basic training. They put him into intelligence, and he really liked it. He was in Afghanistan."
In 2009, Coffland and two Marines were in the Sayed Abud region investigating a blast when a roadside bomb killed all three of them. It was a mission Cofflan's family said he volunteered for -- to take the place of a fellow soldier who had a family.
A few months after he died, Lynn Coffland was thinking about ways to "give back" in honor of her brother. She landed on a charity that funded gym memberships for veterans.
"I started the Catch A Lift Fund out of my basement," Lynn Coffland said. "I looked into guys coming home, and the more we learned about it, the more of them we placed in gyms. Working out releases endorphins in positive ways, and we currently service over 1,900 veterans from all states. We receive 200-300 applications per month."
On Sept. 20 from 3-7 p.m., the Stevenson University men's soccer program will sponsor a fundraising event for Catch A Lift at the Hard Rock Café downtown.
For the program, Lynn Coffland considers combat wounded or injured veterans. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are included.
"Invisible wounds are the some of the hardest to get over," Lynn Coffland said.
She said funding is the biggest obstacle. There are always 300 waiting to take part in the program. The vet chooses the facility, and $1,200 is the limit. The program will also pay for the caregiver.
"Their stress level is high, because they are running a household," Lynn Coffland said. "A lot of vets can't drive. The caregivers are remarkable."
For those who can't go into public spaces, Lynn Coffland arranges for home equipment. She recently launched the Squad Leader program, because follow-up and results are important.
"We have groups of seven to 10 veterans, and the leader follows the squad throughout the year," Lynn Coffland said. "They work out together. It builds the camaraderie that they have been missing."
One of those vets is Towson High School graduate Ryan Major. As a sergeant in Iraq, he lost both of his legs and part of his abdomen, and his arms are fused at the elbow.
"He came back and was in a dark place," Lynn Coffland said. "He's hitting the gym and playing wheelchair rugby. He does difficult therapy on prosthetics all week and still works out."
Catchaliftfund.com is in all 50 states. Lynn Coffland attaches the money directly to a veteran and is most proud of the fact that 90 cents on every dollar goes into the program.
"It's all about helping people," Lynn Coffland said. "The veterans are the most amazing and inspiring people. Thirty-five is the average [age], and many are young and intelligent people with nothing to do. Some have been classified as unemployable and are on fixed incomes. Gyms are a luxury they can't afford. Many become obese. We have story after story of vets losing 40-60 pounds and dropping from more than 20 medications to two."
When Stevenson men's soccer coach John Plevyak heard about Catch A Lift, he decided that he wanted to be involved.
"We select a cause ever year, and when I read the story about Chris and Lynn on the website, I was in," Plevyak said. "We want to help get the word out. [During the fundraising event Sept. 20], there will be two bands, a silent auction and a 50-50 raffle. I'm looking forward to meeting some of these guys."
Coffland said she receives emails every week from veterans about how the program has helped saved their life.
"They really want it, and they go for it," Lynn Coffland said. "They were in their prime before they were injured. We help create the best new person they can be."