Oklahoma City's 'Secret Millionaire' stars hope donations lead to awareness of disabilities

Connor Karow, 10, and Charlie Swearingen, 35, an Olympic sitting volleyball player, met during the filming of ABC's ‘Secret Millionaire' show when it visited Limbs for Life in Oklahoma City.
BY Kyle Fredrickson kfredrickson@opubco.com Published: June 11, 2012
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Connor Karow doesn't like going slow. Actually, the 10-year-old hates it.

His friend, Charlie Swearingen, an Olympic sitting volleyball player, agrees. Slow isn't fun even when you're 35.

Connor likes when people comment about how quickly he can get down the soccer field, but not when people stare at his right leg. He doesn't want that kind of attention.

He buries his face in his hands and groans when little girls in the supermarket lock their eyes and point. Swearingen knows the feeling, too. He remembers the name-calling when he was Connor's age.

Connor and Swearingen both had limbs amputated shortly after birth. Connor was born without a right leg and Swearingen without fibulas. They both wear prosthetics that allow them to lead fulfilling lives, but at a high cost.

Connor's prosthetic, one he constantly outgrows, can cost upward of $18,000, and Swearingen's high-tech legs set him back about $80,000. To bridge the financial gap, both enlisted the help of Limbs for Life, a nonprofit Oklahoma City charity that keeps people out of wheelchairs and running.

The organization's mission was broadcast worldwide Sunday night on ABC's television series “Secret Millionaire.” Connor and Swearingen were featured on the program. It's where they developed a bond and a friendly competition.

The first time they met, Connor challenged Swearingen to a race.

“I could probably beat you,” Connor said.

Swearingen turned to the other person in the room: “I like him.”

Angels

Pam Timmons doesn't remember saying it, but the tape proved otherwise. Timmons, Limbs for Life Director of Development, says she was so emotional that she could hardly remember.

“It was like two angels fell out of the sky,” she said.

It was the reveal portion of “Secret Millionaire” and Timmons had just learned the two men volunteering for a week last August at her nonprofit organization were actually millionaires Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen. They made their fortune by co-founding Anytime Fitness, an international chain of health clubs.

On top of organizing Limbs for Life's storage room of prosthetic parts, the two donated $100,000, a dolly full of tubs to store parts, and tools. For the long term, they are donating 100 percent of the profits from their new book, “Working Out Sucks” to help people across the world that cannot afford them get prosthetics.



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Did you know?

Limbs for Life

• The average prosthetic limb costs $20,000 to $100,000 through insurance.

• Limbs for Life can provide a fully-functioning prosthetic limb for an average of $2,000 because of donated time and components.

• To learn more or to donate, go to www.limbsforlife.org.

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