Wake County

Raleigh woman with muscular dystrophy: ‘There are no limits to what you can do’

Lorraine Woodward at the beach with her sons, Nathan and Alexander.
Lorraine Woodward at the beach with her sons, Nathan and Alexander. Courtesy of Lorraine Woodward

When she was 2, Lorraine Woodward was diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, which causes weakness in the arms and legs. Doctors told her family she wouldn’t live past 16.

Now Woodward, 54, is a wife, mother and entrepreneur who refuses to let barriers get in the way of her goals. She is now featured in the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s summer “Live Unlimited” fundraising campaign, and her story is on the association’s website.

“This campaign is about not letting your disabilities define who you are,” said Woodward, who lives in Raleigh.

For the national initiative, people were invited to share how they “live unlimited” by uploading a photo of themselves overcoming obstacles or moving beyond perceived limits.

With every upload before July 31, program partners donated $5 to help those with muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The campaign exceeded its $30,000 goal, raising more than $100,000.

Woodward posted a photo of her and her husband and their two grown sons, who both also have muscular dystrophy. In the picture, they are all smiling.

“Featuring Lorraine in this campaign was an easy decision,” Steven M. Derks, president and CEO of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, said in an email. “Her inspiring story, combined with her passion and enthusiasm for helping others with muscle-debilitating diseases, is truly the essence of what it means to live unlimited.”

As a child, Woodward traveled around the United States for treatments. She also rode a bicycle, played with friends at her family’s home in Arkansas and served as her high school’s mascot, a six-legged wampus cat.

Though she couldn’t lift her arms over her head and was forced to wear leg braces, she “could yell the loudest” and snagged a spot on the school’s pep squad.

After graduation, Woodward asked a friend why none of her male classmates had asked her out on a date. She was active and outgoing, after all.

“All the guys were afraid that you were going to die on them,” the friend told her.

Woodward went on to marry Robert. Their older son Nathan, 21, is a student at Southern Methodist University in Texas, and their younger son Alexander, 19, attends Furman University in South Carolina.

In 1992, Woodward founded Woodward Communications, which helps clients with multimedia projects, writing and editing, and web design.

She noticed a lack of stock photos of people with disabilities. So she started Realistic Reflections, a photography company that specializes in images of people with disabilities playing, laughing and doing commonplace activities.

When her sons graduated from middle school, they were frustrated by how unattractive their medical equipment was. So Woodward created Lorraine’s Canes, a company that creates fashionable walking canes.

Woodward even set up a beach house, “Lorraine’s Hakuna Matata,” in Carolina Beach to enable people with disabilities to enjoy a stress-free vacation. The house is equipped with a hospital bed, power for oxygen, and more.

In addition to managing her businesses, she volunteers at art and entertainment events and invites people of all ages into an art studio in her garage. To get everything done, she usually wakes up at 6 a.m. and doesn’t go to bed until 11 p.m.

“I want people to know that you can have the life that you want and not let barriers define who you are,” Woodward said. “I’ve tried not to let limits get in front of me.”

But there are still challenges. When she visits her son in Dallas, it’s tough to maneuver her wheelchair on public transportation.

Still, Woodward keeps a positive attitude.

“I’m educating people that you can get involved in your community, even if you’re in a wheelchair,” she said.

Woodward added: “How can you achieve what you want to achieve? There are no limits to what you can do.”

Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler