"Small but powerful" was Katie Lynch’s motto—and her life story. Her power came from her generous spirit, amazing courage, and cheerful determination to succeed at whatever she decided to do. At the 2001 Boston Marathon, against all odds, she took 26 Steps that inspired the name of this family philanthropy program.
Katie Lynch faced life-threatening medical challenges throughout her 27 years as a Boston Children's Hospital patient. She suffered many illnesses and operations, and reached young adulthood weighing only 35 pounds and standing just 28 inches tall—when she could stand. Walking was painfully difficult, so she relied on a motorized wheelchair.
But Katie refused to be sidelined. She brought exceptional determination, intelligence and humor to her zest for life. “There are no people with disabilities–just people with varying abilities,” she liked to say. Katie was an outstanding student, a National Honor Society member who went on to graduate from college with highest honors. One of her passions was sports–the thrill of watching her football-playing brothers and other athletes (especially the Red Sox) push their limits. Despite her own limits, Katie participated in any athletic activities she could at school, and was manager of the wrestling and girls’ indoor track teams.
Katie's tiny body held a generous mind and a compassionate heart–giving to others was as natural as breathing for her. Whether it was a pledge walk for hunger or a charity basketball tournament, Katie was a champion fundraiser. She was president of a school service club and worked to make her college campus more accessible for physically challenged students. She loved volunteering at Boston Children's Hospital, her "home away from home," where she eventually took a job helping families of other sick children. She was a gifted motivational speaker–at one Boston Children’s Hospital dinner, Katie remarked from the podium, "You all must be sighing with relief: 'Ahh, a short speaker!'"
Katie gave her most courageous gift in 2001, joining the Children’s Hospital team running the famous 26.2-mile Boston Marathon® to raise money for the hospital. She figured she'd "run" in her own way–on a 26.2-foot course at the beginning of the marathon road, leaning on a special walker with wheels. Her doctors thought even this distance would be an extreme athletic feat for her–but they gave the OK. Katie trained for months, using water therapy to strengthen her legs and massage to cope with the chronic pain in her lower body. There were moments she was afraid she might not reach the finish line. "I'll try not to think of it as a failure," she said. "Even if I don't make it, I'll still be there to cheer for my Children's Hospital teammates."
Two hours before the official start on marathon day, April 16, 2001, a large group of well-wishers, some of whom had never even met Katie, gathered at the starting line. Wearing her beloved purple running shoes, Katie walked 26 feet, as the crowd roared, "GO, GO, GO, Katie!" At the finish line, in tears, she said simply, "I'm very grateful for the support I've had all my life from Boston Children's Hospital. Without it, I never could have done this."
Katie's walk motivated her friends to pledge more than $20,000 for the hospital. But for her, pushing her limits for a cause she believed in was the most rewarding accomplishment of all.
In the year following the marathon, Katie's health grew worse. She died on October 24, 2002, but her story of love and generosity–and heroic determination–continues to inspire us at Boston Children's Hospital.
Small but powerful, indeed.