PLATTSBURGH — Devann Murphy smoked her competition in the 2019 Boston Marathon Women’s Handcycle class.
For the Keeseville resident, it was a long road from where she was to winning the most elite marathon in the world.
She got on the wheels to success via her personal trainer, Larry Roberts of Eclipse Fitness and Chris Kaag’s IM ABLE FOUNDATION.
“To say Chris, the IM ABLE Foundation, and Larry have helped me change my life would be a serious understatement,” Devann said.
“Adaptive sports do not only help you become physically stronger; they also help you become stronger as a person. I’m definitely more confident and more outgoing now. Handcycling gave me the physical and mental strength to try my first ever Spartan Race in 2018. I’ve fallen in love with the sport and have more scheduled for this year.”
Devann was diagnosed with osteosarcoma of the right femur and hip at the age of 11 in 1991.
“I traveled to Boston for the majority of my surgeries to remove the tumor and, due to the spreading of the disease, my right femur and hip joint,” she said.
“My right femur was replaced with a bone tissue transplant and my hip was fused. My roughly 18 months of chemo treatments were split between Mass General Hospital and CVPH. Of the past 28 years, I’ve required the use of crutches for 22 years.”
In the summer of 1990, she broke her hip playing softball.
Not good for her hip, but it ultimately led to her cancer diagnosis.
“Roughly a half season of little league softball was the extent of my sporting experience,” Devann said.
“I sat on the sidelines for 21 years because I honestly believed I wasn’t capable of any type of physical activity. In 2011, we attended the Heart Walk because our friends’ son was the heart warrior. I couldn’t finish the walk. I was overweight, out of breath and generally miserable. I knew I needed to make a change, so we joined a gym.”
The following year, she learned from an acquaintance about the Rockeater, a local 5K mud/obstacle run.
“I said I would love to do something like that, and their response was ‘oh, you would never finish,’” Devann said.
“So that led to me crutching my way through my first ever 5K. After that, I was hooked. The 5Ks eventually led to a half marathon in 2013, followed by the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk in 2014. I crutched the 26.2 mile course. It took roughly 13 hours to complete and I did significant damage to my wrists and shoulders.”
She knew she wanted to remain active.
She felt better, dropped a few pounds and became stronger.
A Google search led her to IM ABLE Foundation.
Chris enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 17 in 1994.
“Unfortunately, my career ended when I was 21,” he said.
“I developed a degenerative nerve condition and started walking with a cane, then two canes and within five years I was in a chair. But being active was something I definitely believe in, and I by chance found handcycles and I’ve been riding ever since.”
The early onset of the Pennsylvania native’s condition was prompted by a head injury while in the Marine Corps.
“When I got out I just had a slight limp,” Chris said.
“Then, I started to trip over my feet, and I started to use the cane and then the rest is history.”
In 2004, he opened his own gym, Corps Fitness, in Wyomissing, Pa.
“I wanted to motivate and inspire people like the Marine Corps did for me,” Chris said.
Three years later, he was at a hospital that had a lot of kids, which was the impetus for IM ABLE.
His mantra is: “No excuses, just move!”
“I wanted to give kids the ability to live a ‘normal childhood’ with adaptive bikes,” Chris said.
“So that’s how it first started. I wanted to help as many kids as possible. The first young man was 5-year-old Jordan, and his bike was $1,900. So, it was out of reach for a lot of families who had other needs for their kids with different disabilities.”
Devann submitted a grant request to his foundation.
“I make it habit of calling everybody to talk to them just to find out if they have experience,” Chris said.
“We’re a small-grassroots nonprofit. I want to make sure if we invest in people they’re actually going to use it. It’s not going to collect dust and sit in a garage somewhere.”
When he called Devann, she thought that because he was a Marine he only helped veterans.
“She had applied for another grant, and they only helped people with spinal-cord injuries,” Chris said.
“She had cancer, and she has all kinds of different things. But when I talked to her, I was just impressed and I said, ‘I want to help her.’”
Though she was outside of his giving area, he took a chance on her.
“Four years ago, I gave her a bike and now she’s outside and done so much stuff.”
ROAD TO VICTORY
Devann applied for an equipment grant and received her handcycle in March of 2015.
Three months later, she did her first marathon, Vermont City Marathon.
“I stunk!” she said.
“Even though I had made strength gains and lost a little weight, I was still not in what you would call athletic shape. I did a couple more marathons and continued to do mediocre, at best.”
She and her husband, Tom, were members of Eclipse Fitness, which happened to be the only facility in the area with a Krankcycle, a stationary handcycle.
She had regularly been attending spin classes, and one of the instructors was Larry.
“I poked my head in his office door to ask for a few tips, and we arranged a time to sit down and talk,” Devann said.
“I was so hesitant to do this because I had already been turned down by three other local trainers who felt I wouldn’t be an ideal client. Larry was completely different, and it’s because of him that I am where I am now.”
With his coaching, she lost more than 40 pounds.
She was leaner, stronger and her competition performance improved.
“In fact, I won the Women’s Handcycle Division of the 2016 Vermont City Marathon and was the first female handcyclist to cross the finish line at the 2016 Hartford Marathon,” Devann said.
“I continued to train and race, and truly developed a passion for the sport.”
She snagged the 2018 Vermont City Marathon’s title again.
In November of 2018, she won the Women’s Handcycle Division of the TCS NYC Marathon, the “largest marathon in the world.”
“Adaptive sports do not only help you become physically stronger; they also help you become stronger as a person,” Devann said.
Devann loves to use her success as an an adaptive athlete to help others find the passion to help them get up and move.
“I’m a strong believer that there are no excuses,” she said.
“We can face our challenges head on, adapt, and overcome. My goal is to find my limits and push past them. I’m hoping the presence of IM ABLE Adirondacks will help others do the same.”
“With her notoriety now from winning the Boston Marathon and the success she’s had, she has people contact her who are interested in learning more about adaptive sports,” Chris said.
“When she talked to me about it, I said ‘let’s start a neighbor chapter.’ We’ve already been established for over 12 years. I would love to give her the tools to make things happen.
They want local communities here to support local people in their communities. With this, the people who are in here will be able to meet people who give money out,” Chris said.
“We’re trying to get as many local businesses up there, so if anyone is interested in helping out the adaptive population up there we would love to talk to them.”
Email Robin Caudell:
FOR MORE INFORMATION
WHAT: IM ABLE Foundation
WHO: Chris Kaag, executive director/founder