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Giant steps

Marathon the latest goal in a life of challenges

By John Vellante, Globe Staff, 4/14/01

WAYLAND -- Her life -- all 26-plus years of it -- has been one challenge after another.

Katie Lynch Katie Lynch, 26, practicing for Monday's Boston Marathon with a special Walker. (Globe Staff Photo / John Tlumacki)


But Katherine Gabriele Lynch, or, as she prefers, Katie, has handled them all and conquered most with grit, courage, and grace.

Another one awaits her in Hopkinton Monday when she toes the Boston Marathon starting line and attempts to walk 26.2 feet -- a piece of cake for most but a monumental effort for a woman weighing 35 pounds and measuring 28 inches.

Katie Lynch was the first of three children born to Chris and Joan Lynch and, as her mother laughingly exclaims, "she was some opening act."

And that act has played to rave reviews.

Despite a unique form of dwarfism, as yet unnamed, and floppy connective tissue that has led to numerous medical problems and countless life-threatening surgeries, Katie has accepted the hand dealt her and faces each day undaunted and with a smile.

Perhaps that is why one of her favorite expressions is "Parva Sed Potens." It is Latin for "Small but powerful."

Consider just some of what she has accomplished:

• Graduated with honors from Wayland High, where she managed the girls' indoor track team and the wrestling team.

• Graduated summa cum laude from Regis College with a degree in English.

• Employed at Boston Children's Hospital in the Center for Families as an advocate for sick children, their parents, and siblings.

• Is a highly sought-after motivational speaker. • Most of all, though, she is an inspirational human being, one who swells with pride when she says, "No one is disabled, everyone is just differently abled."

A `unique' gift

When Katie was born Dec. 11, 1974, in Lenox Hills Hospital on the Upper East Side of New York, a full month after her due date, she was 13 inches long and weighed 4 pounds 13 ounces. The initial prognosis was retardation and early death. That proved blessedly wrong.

"When Katie arrived, we were very overwhelmed," recalled Joan Lynch. "But I don't think we, I, was really afraid. I was just sort of overwhelmed. You know how a new mother is. There were all the new mother things and then there were the problems, too. I think I was mercifully a bit naive. I think what got us through those early times were definitely our faith and our strong commitment to our marriage and a love of children. That, plus that innate sense that all life is valuable and we're just here to help it along."

Doctors were called in from Mt. Sinai and Cornell, but none, despite their best efforts, could make a diagnosis. Finally, according to Joan Lynch, they said Katie was "unique."

That she is.

"Looking back," said Joan Lynch, "clearly the message to me now is nobody knows what any life is going to do the next day, so just go with what you've got and love it and that's it, because the rest of it really doesn't matter. But that, you know, is 26 years later."

In May 1977, Chris Lynch, managing director of Ascent Venture Management Inc., was accepted into Harvard Business School and moved his family to Wayland. It was there they were referred to Children's Hospital and hooked up with pediatrician Fred Mandell, who today is still Katie's primary care physician.

High achiever

The Lynches, later blessed with two healthy sons, Wyeth, a 2000 graduate of Williams College, where he played football, and Hayden, a sophomore at Williams, tried to provide as normal a life as possible for Katie.

They sent her to public schools and she was popular with her peers and integrated herself into the community. There weren't too many things she didn't try. She was a champion fund-raiser for many charities. Whether it was a walk for hunger or a run for the homeless, you could count on Katie being there.

She managed the high school girls' indoor track and wrestling teams and was honored in 1992 as a Boston Garden Good Sport by the Celtics. Retired wrestling coach Eric Moyer called her "highly achieving" and retired track coach Charlie Scarrow called her the "spirit and soul" of his team. She graduated in 1993 as a member of the National Honor Society.

That fall, she entered Regis College in Weston. There she championed the cause of the physically challenged. In an independent study for economics with professor Edward Mulholland, she researched other academic institutions in an effort to improve the physical plant at Regis. "When I first met her," said Mulholland, "I was the first-year class adviser, and I remember thinking to myself, `I don't know if this is going to work.' All I saw were her limitations. Now I can say that I've been doing this for 35 years and I learned more from her than from any other student. When I think back now, I'm almost ashamed of my initial thoughts."

It took Katie seven years to graduate and when she received her diploma in May 2000, she did so with a flourish. As her name was being called, classmates Amanda Kennedy and Ellie Smith lifted Katie from her wheelchair and she walked 5 feet across the stage to receive her diploma. Her action was a well-kept secret and "floored" her brother Wyeth, who said he hadn't seen her walk in eight years.

In training

No one is really surprised that Katie is going to "run" the Boston Marathon. Not her mom, not her dad, not her brothers, not Mulholland, and certainly not Katie herself.

In preparation, she has trained vigorously. Six times a week at Children's Hospital she undergoes 30 minutes of water walking therapy and an exercise program to strengthen her legs. Ongoing therapy includes acupuncture and massage to help her cope with chronic pain in her lower extremities caused by insufficient blood flow.

The pain was so severe recently that there was concern she might not be able to compete. But late last week, she was given medical clearance by Children's vascular surgeon Craig Lillehei to "go for it."

The plan calls for Katie to begin her 26.2-foot walk at 10:10 a.m. Her goal is to finish by 10:25. And, just as many people do not finish their 26.2-mile run, she is concerned she might not finish her 26.2-foot walk.

"Because of all the pain I've been in recently and because I've had to cut back on some of my training, yes, not being able to finish has crossed my mind," she admitted. "If I can't do this thing, would I think of myself as a failure? I don't like to think of it as failure because to me failure is a totally different matter. If you consider yourself a failure, you've given up all sense of hope.

"I think if I get out there and for some reason I physically can't walk the race, I'm trying to get myself to the point where I don't think I was a failure, that this is something I could not control. I'll still be there to cheer on my teammates [from the Children's Hospital Marathon team] and my family's going to be there regardless. My intent is to go all the way."

Source of pride

Chris Lynch revels in all that his daughter has accomplished, all that she has overcome.

"Katie is a great human, spiritual success story that I wouldn't know an awfully lot about, wouldn't feel a lot about the way I feel about life if we didn't have her," he said. "It goes way beyond pride. I spend a lot of time, and her brothers will tell you this, too, realizing that Katie is a source of strength to us. The roles are reversed.

"You look and you see her going through this, working so hard to meet her goals, and then you look at your own life and what you do and you say, `Gee, that's not so hard actually compared to other things.' It puts life in perspective. So it's pride plus." Or, as Joan Lynch called it, "humility."

Some opening act, indeed.

And still playing to rave reviews.

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