Running with a purpose

Former Towson athlete will run across Maryland in support of Limbs for Life

It was 42 degrees outside, but it felt much colder with the wind chill. It was mid-March, but the piles of snow screamed early February.

But there was Caitlin Adams, walking out of Towson University’s Tower B dormitory wearing grey-and-pink Under Armour shorts and a matching pink tank top as students wearing jeans and sweatpants walked past.

It was 8 a.m. on a Thursday when a photographer met her outside the dorm and began to take pictures for the school newspaper. The photographer asked Caitlin to do a few practice jogs in a parking lot to avoid traffic.

“My grandma would be yelling at me, telling me I’m going to catch pneumonia,” Caitlin said, laughing as the photographer shot a few pictures..

Adams was ready to run after the 10-minute photoshoot finished. Her neon-pink shoes hit the cement pavement and she was off.

She climbed a snall high on York Road and thought of the hills that surround in Cumberland, Md. Then she turned onto Allegany Avenue, her favorite street in Towson.

“It’s such a cute place,” Adams said. “That’s why I love running up here.”

Adams continued through side streets until returned to campus. After racing up another hill on Osler Drive, she finished where she started, 2.5 miles and an hour later.

“That was super easy,” she said after she finished.

Adams, a former member of Towson’s varsity cross country team, is used to running long distances — she ran again the same day. But the press coverage is new.

She is attracting attention as she prepares for a 390-mile run across Maryland in support of Limbs for Life, an organization that gives prosthetics to people who can’t afford them. Adams’ fundraising run will start May 23 in Cumberland and end 36 days later in Ocean City. She will run 10 to 15 miles a day, sleep at a local hotel, wake up and do it all over again.

She will train every day like she did on this frigid March morning. But the race will be a different test.

“I think it’s going to be the most mentally and physically challenging thing I’ve done in my entire life,” Adams said. “I think there’s going to be definitely times where I’ll want to quit … But I know myself enough that I’m going to be able to say ‘I’m doing this for these people. I’ve already started and I’m going to finish it.’”

Building the Foundation

She swore there was no rhyme or reason to it. Maybe it was an act of God.

“It just popped in my head,” Adams said. “I have no idea what it meant. I’m not like shove-down-your-throat religious, but I’d like to think God put it in my head because it was something I was meant to do.”

The word “prosthetics” kept running through Adams’ mind in her junior year at Colonel Richardson High School in Federalsburg, Md., in 2012. She couldn’t shake the thought, so she downloaded the app on her iPod Touch to find out what “prosthetics” meant.

It read like this:

“The branch of medicine or surgery that deals with the production and application of artificial body parts.”

She wasn’t sure what to do with this information until spring 2013. After quitting the softball team, Adams decided to try out for the track team. Running wasn’t her specialty — she ran a 14-minute mile in middle school. But she decided that she didn’t want to be last anymore and cut that time to five minutes in high school.

The more she ran in high school, the more she thought about the importance of prosthetics.

“I started running track and that’s when I realized, if you didn’t have a leg … how huge of an impact that would have on your life,” Adams said. “All the things we take for granted, like walking somewhere, that’s something we should be grateful to do.”

As early as 2013, Adams began mapping the route for a hypothetical cross-Maryland run. However, track forced her to invest more time and effort into improving, which meant less devoted to planning out the run.

It wasn’t until she came to Towson in fall 2014 to join the cross country team that the run resurfaced.

“My senior year [of high school], I was captain. I was the person that people relied on,” Adams said. “When I came to college, I was kind of a smaller fish in a big pond, because everyone on the team was one of those people. I kind of felt like I lost purpose. I felt like I needed to run with a purpose again.”

Adams sat on her dorm room floor on the second floor of Tower B soon after, and wrote down a bucket list in her journal. On it was the run across Maryland.

“That was the day I was like, ‘That’s it. I’m going to do this,’” she said.

Adams reached out to Limbs for Life just before Thanksgiving. She had found her purpose again.

Caitlin will run 390 miles from Cumberland to Ocean City. These are the locations of each stop on the 36-day trip.

The Limbs for Life Legacy

Lester Sabolich began his prosthetic clinic in Oklahoma City in 1947. He wanted to influence the lives of others. He had no clue that his name would become synonymous with the cause. Lester’s son, John Sabolich, watched as his father designed prostheses for those in need and was inspired to follow suit in the business.

John became a certified prosthetist-orthotist, worked alongside his father until he retired and then took over the business in the 1980s. However, he wasn’t satisfied with turning away patients who didn’t have health insurance..

His son, Scott Sabolich, grew up watching these patients walk out of the clinic.

“When I saw people coming to dad that had no health insurance coverage, I saw the pain in his eyes when he had to turn someone away,” Scott said. “It was a big thing for me to see dad find another way to get someone help when the world is telling you there is no help available.”

John began the American Amputee Foundation with his own money, using donation money to help his patients that had little or no health insurance.

In 1995, John turned the AAF into Limbs for Life, another non-profit based solely on donations. That same year, Scott got his certification. He wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“Everyone has a hero when they grow up,” Scott said. “You ask some little kid what he wants to do. Maybe he wants to be a fireman or a fighter pilot … I idolize my father for what he did in the field and what he did for people. It was the coolest thing in the world to see him take someone that was disabled and make them enabled.”

Limbs for Life, from its beginning, worked with local prosthetic clinics to lower the price of prostheses for patients. These prostheses cost upwards of $10,000, and Limbs for Life brought the price down to $2,500 for a below-knee limb and $3,500 for an above-knee limb.

Scott established his own prosthetic business in Oklahoma City in 1999. It worked in the community and alongside Limbs for Life to provide cheap options for prostheses.

Since then, John and Scott have worked to help as many patients as possible. Scott even made prostheses, including 10 last year, for free just to assist a few more people.

“I have to sleep at night,” Scott said. “I think God put us here for a purpose to give witness to others. To help other people out that need help. … What are the odds of three of us being very, very talented in prosthetics? That’s pretty odd. We’re certainly here for a reason and this is sort of what pops right out as our mission.”

Limbs for Life, a non-profit based in Oklahoma, has now served patients from 31 different states and six countries. It’s something that Limbs for Life Director of Development Shelley Dutton attributes to John Sabolich.

“[The organization] has grown considerably and his vision from 20 years ago has really evolved to help hundreds and hundreds of people,” Dutton said.

Today, around 3,000 amputations occur each week. The demand for prostheses is growing and Limbs for Life can only service 30–60 patients each year.

However, the stories of those of whom Limbs for Life has helped keep Scott going.

“Seeing them, showing us pictures of them walking their daughter down the aisle or seeing them playing with their grandkids at Christmas,” he said. “[These are] things that they wouldn’t be able to do had you not donated your time and effort to Limbs for Life to make it happen.”

Wanting More

Adams’ fundraising efforts were just starting in February, but she was already aiming high. She decided to write to the first lady, Michelle Obama.

She told her about the run. She told her about Limbs for Life and the lives that it helped.

A little over a month later, Adams got a response. She got an email March 12 letting her know a letter would be coming from Ms. Obama.

“I cried of happiness,” she said. “I thought, the First Lady is writing me back. She’s going to help me get it out there nationally. It’s going to be huge. People are going to donate like crazy. People are going to get their legs back.”

Adams was on spring break in South Carolina when the letter arrived in the mail at home. Her mother, Gina Adams, couldn’t wait to open, so Caitlin Adams gave her the OK.

When her mother called to tell her what the letter said, Adams could sense something was off.

“She read it to me and her voice, you could hear that she kind of got disappointed-sounded,” Adams said. “I know she was trying to fight it because she was trying to be excited for me and didn’t want me to be disappointed.”

Obama praised Adams for what she was doing, but stopped short of joining her during the run or donating money.

“It wasn’t what I was hoping at all,” she said, sporting a reluctant smile. “I have to be grateful and stay positive. I’m happy that she wrote me back, that’s awesome. Not many people get a letter from Michelle Obama. I don’t mean to sound upset about it, but I think that more can be done so I’m going to fight until more is done.”

She’s going to write the First Lady again.

“I’m content, but I want more,” she said.

To those around Adams, her reaction comes as no surprise.

Adams’ mom began to notice her daughter’s drive as early as in fifth grade. Adams made purses for fun and brought them to school to show her friends.

“She took them to school an everybody wanted one, so she started making purses and selling them,” Gina Adams said. “I thought that was a little out of the norm for a 10-year-old. I think that’s when I first noticed [her drive].”

This determination carried over into middle and high school, where her desire to run faster kept her going.

“I was with her at practice every day and just seeing her push herself all the time, constantly, even when it hurts really bad,” Addie Grayson, her high school teammate, said. “She worked so hard all the time. Everybody has those days where you’re like ‘Oh, not today” but she never did. She always worked for it.”

She left the cross country team in the fall because she wasn’t happy with the lack of improvement she was seeing. Instead, she began planning the run across Maryland. It was another change, but one she felt was necessary.

Her teammates saw her frustration, but some knew she’d still be successful without cross country.

“I knew she was going to do something big when she left the team. It didn’t surprise me much,” junior cross country runner Kelsey Kollar said. “She’s very focused. She’s very determined to do it. … I know she has it.”

Getting her life back

For the past three years, Angie Lange just wanted to feel normal.

Ever since she headed out onto Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Ark., one day in August of 2011, Lange’s life had been a struggle.

“Even your daily things, like grocery shopping, it was a lot more difficult than what it is now,” Lange said. When we went grocery shopping, I had to use the electric cart because I had so much pain.”

Lange, 48, can remember, vividly, the day that changed her life. She and her friend went boating on the lake with her friend’s children.

The children were swinging off a tree swing and Lange decided to join. However, when she swung her wet hands slipped off the rope and she flew 10 feet to the water, fracturing her ankle.

.Angie’s open wound sat in the bacteria-filled water for 20 minutes until the ambulance came.

She was rushed to the hospital, where she underwent four surgeries in a matter of days to fix the fracture and clean out the bacteria. The prognosis was good, but Lange continued to feel pain after being released from the hospital.

Four days passed and she went back to emergency by her son Billy’s advice. There, she found out that the bacteria could not be stopped. Doctors recommended an amputation of the left leg and Lange knew it had to be done.

They amputated her leg below the knee.

“When we got home, we had stairs in our house,” she said. “I realized I couldn’t go up the stairs at all right after. There were stairs and I couldn’t go. … There were so many things I was restricted from doing. I was just laying there.”

After a few weeks, Lange was fitted for temporary prostheses, but they caused her more pain than she had hoped. Without insurance enough to pay for better prostheses, she signed up for the Limbs for Life registry of hundreds in March of 2014.

She called Limbs for Life every week. She was hoping to move up on the list of amputees waiting for prostheses.

Over the course of three years, Lange’s knees began deteriorated and she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She needed a boost.

This March, she got that boost. Limbs for Life called to tell her she was at the top of list and was going to get a prosthetic leg.

“I thought, ‘Everything is going to change. I’m going to be able to walk better,’” she said. “I was walking with a cane at the time and I knew all of this is going to change. I knew I’d be able to do more than I was doing. “

It took three long weeks and Lange had her new leg. She knew exactly what to do next.

“I was so proud of myself the other day I went to [the grocery store].” she said. “I walked in and instead of getting the electric cart, I walked over to the sushi bar, got me sushi, and went to wait in line and check out. Before, that was an impossible feat. … That was the first time I had been able to do that in three years.”

It was a small task, but a huge feat.

“I just had the biggest smile on my face,” she said. “It felt normal again.”

A $2,500 donation from Adams allowed Lange to get her new limb.

Limbs for Life reached out to Lange in March and told her that Adams’ only wish was to speak with someone of whom the money was helping. She happily agreed.

“Caitlin called me and we talked about what she was doing,” Lange said. “She was so enthusiastic about it. She is a very giving person and that’s hard to find nowadays.”

The two met April 23 in Conroe, Texas, Lange’s hometown. Adams’ wish came true, and so did Lange’s.

Down the road

There’s not much in Preston, Maryland, the town Adams calls home. Farms fill the outskirts and empty back roads that lead to the only restaurant in the Eastern Shore town.

“That’s why I run,” Adams said. “I have nothing else to do.”

Still, almost 50 people came out to Colonel Richardson High School, where Caitlin spent three years, on a warm and sunny Saturday morning. They came to support a “Mud-run” to help raise money for Caitlin and her run.

“I found out about her doing the run across Maryland and knowing how crazy she was, I knew she’d actually do it,” Chad Shelley, Caitlin’s former teacher at Colonel Richardson, said. “I brought [the run] up to our National Honor Society and we decided to do [fundraiser].”

Caitlin’s “mud run” started at Colonel Richardson High School in Preston, Maryland.

Adams’ “mud run” started at Colonel Richardson High School in Preston, Maryland.

Adams and her mother stood in a field of dandelions in front of the fence that surrounded the track as participants signed up for the run. The memories started to return.

“I went through a lot of pain on that track,” Adams said.

“That’s where it all started,” her mother said.

The group, anxious to start the run, huddled in a circle around Mr. Shelley and Adams. She thanked everyone for coming and she began sending runners out in pairs.

While the runners were making their way through the course, which entered the woods and popped back out, Caitlin and Gina Adams started thinking about the run again. With a month to go, Gina said she was confident in her daughter.

It didn’t take long for Adams to begin thinking about what’s next. She said she wants to run across America.

“Why not? There’s only a couple people who’ve ever done it,” she said, in true form.

“You could,” her mother answered.

She hasn’t started her run yet, but Adams is already looking for her next challenge.