Wounded veterans ‘catch a lift’

Written by on June 19, 2013 in Featured - No comments

Sergeant Lee Flowers, left, and Sergeant Keith Buckmon, both of whom were wounded and gravely injured in Iraq while serving with the Marine Corps, say that the opportunity to work out at the gym has helped immensely with their recoveries, both physical and mental. - Photo by Erik Zygmont

It’s a matter of common sense that there are two key components to overall physical and mental health: diet and exercise. Baltimorean Lynn Coffland is trying to provide one of those to some of the people who need it the most.

Founded by Coffland in 2010, Catch a Lift is a nonprofit that aims to provide free gym memberships or free home gym equipment to wounded, post 9-11 veterans.

Marine Sergeant Lee Flowers of Laurel, who served 9 years and has suffered gun and shrapnel wounds to the head, legs and shoulders, as well as post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, has been through a lot. Though fully disabled, he counts the gym as a crucial part of his routine.

“It’s family first, and then physical fitness,” said Flowers at a Flag Day celebration last week in which he and other veterans were honored at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, 844 E. Pratt St. “It’s inherited from the Marine Corps.”

Flowers said that returning home after his deployment overseas was not easy.

“You start getting downhill with things pretty quick, and you need that stability at the gym,” he said.

Flowers learned about Catch a Lift from his friend Keith Buckmon, also a Sergeant in the Marines. Flowers added that while he avoided the gym initially, he now goes to LA Fitness first thing at 8 a.m.

“It’s amazing that Catch a Lift has been able to do that for us,” he said. “It’s a definite blessing.”

Flowers was serving as Assault Section Leader of Iraqi Freedom II in 2004 when his unit was attacked by insurgents. He ran to the aid of his comrades and refused treatment until the more seriously injured were taken care of.

Flowers’ friend Buckmon echoed the sentiment that working out helps one’s mental health.

“It gives you something to do in life with your stress,” Buckmon said. “You can project your feelings elsewhere.”

Buckmon was one of two people to survive a suicide bombing in Iraq that left many Marines dead. With severe injuries to his legs and one of his arms, he had to relearn how to walk. He said that exercise is critical for him to keep the ground he has gained in his recovery.

“That stuff can deteriorate over time if you don’t maintain it,” he said.

Buckmon describes himself as a “lift weights kind of guy,” but he admits that his wife has managed to get him into a Zumba or aerobics class or two. Buckmon enjoys wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball and the monoski. He trains at Club One in Kent Island.

Lynn Coffland launched Catch a Lift in honor of her brother, Chris Coffland, who enlisted in the Army at 41, just one month shy of the cutoff age, and left behind a career as an anthropologist.

“My brother was a huge, huge fitness advocate,” said Lynn Coffland. “Every single day, he’d say, on his way out to the gym, ‘I’m going to catch a lift.’”

Chris Coffland was in the intelligence division of the Army when he was killed by a roadside bomb. Coffland’s life, character and the decisions he made could be the subject of a whole other article, or more likely a book.

“He never wanted to be an officer,” said his father, David Coffland. “He turned down an appointment to West Point. We tried to convince him, but he didn’t want to.”

Lynn Coffland came up with the idea of Catch a Lift with her niece, Jessica Cline.

“We came up with it just like that,” said Coffland. “We knew how important it was to get the vets back into physical fitness—back into civilian life.”

The first year that the organization was “all legal,” with 501(c)3 status, two veterans participated, Coffland said.

“This year, at seven months in, there are 110 in and 225 waiting. We get five to six applications a day,” she said.

On Sunday, Sept. 8, Catch a Lift will hold a fundraiser at Kali’s Court in Fell’s Point, with a buffet, drinks, silent auction, and veterans to speak to attendees. More information on the foundation is available at catchaliftfund.com.

by Erik Zygmont

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