In June 2004 at the age of 54, Oak Hill resident Harry Freedman was run over by an 18-ton front loader that damaged his leg so severely it had to be amputated.
“It hit me from behind,” he said. “It was a huge forklift front loader that could pick up four crushed cars at one time, and it ran right over my leg. I was distraught and destroyed.”
After spending 54 days at Inova Fairfax Hospital undergoing 17 surgeries, Freedman spent three weeks in the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network, adjusting to his new life with just one leg.
“I was amazed at the program,” Freedman remembers. “They taught me everything that I needed to know and do to live my life as an amputee.”
The rehabilitation program has been around for more than a quarter of a century.
“At MedStar National Rehabilitation Network, we’ve been treating adults and children with disabling illness or injury for more than 25 years,” said MedStar spokesman Derek Berry. “We help people regain their independence so they can return to their communities and their lives.”
According to Berry, exercise and physical activity are often inaccessible and overlooked by individuals with disabilities, especially those that use wheelchairs for mobility. But a lack of daily physical activity and routine exercise produces a higher risk for skin breakdowns, osteoporosis, chronic pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Through adaptive sports programs incorporating basketball, tennis, hockey, rugby, volleyball, rowing and other sports, MedStar NRH helps those with physical disabilities to be able to help themselves.
“Adaptive sports are a fun and competitive way to achieve increased energy and endurance, stronger muscles, weight loss and a positive outlook,” said Berry.
For Freedman, it was a life-changing experience.
“They run the programs like a boot camp,” he said. “They work you. You get up and you work. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself. Through the adaptive sports program, I learned how to cope. It made a huge difference in my life and I felt like giving back right away.”
In September 2004, just three months after the accident that claimed his leg, Freedman and his family started the Super H 5K Run, Walk & Wheel, with the proceeds benefitting the Washington Paralympic Sports Program and the Washington, D.C., chapter of BlazeSports America, MedStar NRH’s community-based sports programs for children and adults with physical disabilities.
“My wife is in marketing and came up with the Super H slogan and logo,” Freedman said. The “H” stands for Harry, Freedman’s first name.
On Sept. 22, the Super H event’s 10th annual race raised about $45,000 to purchase adaptive sports equipment.
“I would guess that over the last 10 years we have probably raised about $300,000 overall for equipment benefitting those programs,” Freedman said. “Every year we get $10,000 from Volkswagen Group of America and $5,000 from my cousin who is a Hollywood producer, so that’s always a great start.”
The 5K begins and ends at Tysons Sport & Health on Greensboro Drive in McLean, goes around Tysons Galleria on Galleria Drive to Jones Branch Drive, then onto International Drive and back to Greensboro Drive.
This year’s overall winner was Dr. Craig Clark, 60, of Reston, who rode a leg-powered recumbent tricycle.
Clark, a physician and avid lifelong cyclist, suffered severe nerve damage in 2008 when, during a two-wheeled bike race, he ran off course and into a light pole.
“It affected my equilibrium such that I can no longer keep my balance well enough to ride two-wheeled vehicles,” he said. “My left arm and left leg also do not function properly.”
Clark belongs to a paralympic sports club adaptive rowing team through MedStar NRH that competes in rowing competitions on the Anacostia River.
“I am so impressed with the effort that my team members demonstrate,” he said. “Many are wounded warriors and it is so inspiring to hear their stories and see what they can do. I will continue to support this organization for as long as I am able to compete, and even after that, I will continue to volunteer in any way I can.”
Freedman, now 64, says he feels the same way.
“I am slowing down a bit and no longer run in the race, but as I get older it is just as satisfying to see young kids find it within themselves to participate, compete and win. You can see how much it means for them.”