Lynn Coffland founded Catch a Lift in honor of her brother Chris, who died in Afghanistan in November 2009 while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Since its founding, Catch a Lift has helped thousands of post-9/11 veterans regain their mental and physical health — in the gym.
"When he went to the gym he would say he was going to catch a lift," Coffland said of her brother. "He believed that physical fitness could change your life mentally and physically. He lived his life by that philosophy."
Chris loved to travel, learn, and coach. But after 9/11, he knew there was something else he needed to do — despite being one month shy of 42.
"He was single. Didn't have children. He was very close to our family — especially to me. We were best friends," Coffland said. "But he really felt the need to serve. He wanted to take the place of any young man or woman who was going into the service with a family. He went to Fort Meade, beat all the records there, then went to boot camp."
"I drove him to the airport the day he deployed. I asked him 'What am I going to do if you don't come back?'" Coffland said. "He said 'I probably won't. I had a great run. I'm ready to meet Jesus. And I want to take the place of someone else who has a family. I want to let them come home.'"
Shortly into his first deployment, Coffland switched places with a younger service member to go on what would be his last mission.
"They knew it was a dangerous target. So he switched places with a younger service member and went on a mission he wasn't originally supposed to go on. And he was killed."
In the months after Chris's death, countless friends reached out to Coffland. A lot of them talked about the physical feats Chris was able to achieve at boot camp. Some of them knew Chris overseas and talked about his attitude there. And many of them told stories about catching a lift with Chris.
"I started researching and found out there were no government programs that offered physical fitness rehabilitation for combat veterans returning from war," Coffland said. "From there, it took about a year to launch Catch a Lift."
Catch a Lift offers gym memberships, in-home gym equipment, personalized fitness and nutrition programs, and a peer support network to help veterans see improvements in both their mental and physical health. Those who benefit from Catch a Lift's resources see dramatic weight loss, reduction in medications, improved sleep patterns, and an overall healthier lifestyle.
"The concept is you work out however and wherever you want for your individual needs," Coffland said. "It has a very big success factor."
Catch a Lift has over 2,900 enrolled veterans at their Maryland location and 1,500 participating across the country. The program offers resources to both veterans and caregivers.
"I feel in my soul that my brother's death brought life to other people," Coffland said. "These men and women served us so selflessly, and I believe the roles are reversed. Now we have to fight for them."