Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Climbing 56 flights to help fight lung disease

By Edward Fitzpatrick The Providence Journal - Rhode Island

Stepping up, being counted for a good cause

I’m usually not much of a social climber. But over the weekend, I got together with 250 other people to climb 597 stairs.

We leaped, plodded, pulled and lunged our way up 28 floors (56 flights) to reach the top of the state’s second-tallest building, One Financial Plaza. (I still think of it as the Hospital Trust tower.) The event raised more than $52,000 for the American Lung Association.

You may ask: Why? If you’re sane, why do that?

I wanted to do it, in part, because I consider lungs a good cause. My mother has breathing problems, and I’ve had asthma since I was a kid. I remember playing for a Smithfield youth basketball team sponsored by North Atlantic Seafood. (Go Lobsters!) After taking a shot, I’d sometimes run off the court and take a hit off an inhaler before getting back on defense.

I also wanted to do it because I’ve developed an affinity for oddball athletic events. It began a couple of years ago when we were staying at an Adirondack lodge and the owner asked if I wanted to run a road race with him. He said there was just one hill. (It turned out to be 4,876-foot Whiteface Mountain.) Last year, I did the Dash for Diabetes, a one-mile race in Providence that was downhill all the way. In that race, I learned that gravity can be your friend.

On Saturday, I learned that gravity can kick your butt. At first, I felt fine, keeping a brisk pace, taking two steps at a time. At about the sixth floor, some Providence College cheerleaders were rooting for the climbers. I thanked them and joked about this being the top. Two or three floors later — wham! — I hit the wall. Not the cinderblock walls, mind you. My breathing and heart rate had maxed out. I tried taking one step at a time and felt no better, only slower. I passed more cheerleaders and grumbled, growing more ornery and focused with every flight. In the narrow stairwell, I grabbed railings on either side and started pulling and lunging up two stairs at a time. No one who witnessed this effort would describe it as running. It wasn’t pretty. But it got me to the top in 3 minutes and 55 seconds.

At the summit, I enjoyed a spectacular view of the building’s heating and cooling systems. There were no windows. But there was an elevator down. With the climbing done, I could be social.

I talked to Jennifer Krueger, of Wakefield, who dedicated the climb to her stepfather. He has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and is awaiting a lung transplant. She had raised $370, and her fundraising page noted lung disease is the number-three killer (behind heart disease and cancer) in the United States, responsible for one in six deaths. I’d point out that asthma is the leading chronic illness of U.S. children. (About 6.8 million people younger than 18 had asthma in 2006.)

I also talked to Warwick firefighters Tom Jessop and Christian Henrikson, who made me realize the climb could have been even tougher. I could have been carrying the 60 pounds of firefighter gear, including helmets, boots and Scott Air-Paks. Henrikson said, “It’s not like you are carrying a 60-pound backpack on you” because the weight is distributed and “we train in our gear and wear it all the time.” But, he added, “It doesn’t help.”

If you’re ready to step up, the lung association has similar events planned in March at tall buildings in Worcester and Springfield, Mass., Manchester, N.H., and Hartford. (

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