On Saturday morning, Krysta Voskowsky, along with four of her co-workers, put on T-shirts they screen-printed and headed downtown to climb 82 flights of stairs. The team didn’t climb for exercise, and the elevators to get to the 41st floor were, in fact, working. Instead, they climbed the stairs to fight the leading cancer killer: lung cancer.
The Fight for Air Climb in Boston is an American Lung Association fundraiser where approximately 1,500 participants climb 789 stairs at the BNY Mellon Center in Boston. Sometimes referred to as a “vertical road race,” the climb was one of the first Fights for Lung Cancer fundraisers for the American Lung Association.
“We saw it as a unique fundraising event that was very unique for its time,” said Erin Hickey, event manager for the Fight for Air Climb in Boston. “Because it was so different, it was more likely to succeed. This is the ninth year of the Boston climb, and we plan on the event’s continuous success.”
Participants sign up to climb individually or in a team. Voskowsky was asked by one of her co-workers at NoshOn.It, a website dedicating to showcasing the world’s most talented bloggers and their recipes, to join her on the climb.
“I’d never participated in the Fight for Air Climb before — I’d never even done a 5K,” Voskowsky said. “But after we agreed that we would screen print some nifty T-shirts, I was in.”
While the climb is advertised as “a great way to be active and meet new friends,” it also serves as a way to climb for those who are fighting for air.
“I’m climbing for the kids,” Voskowsky said. “As a kid, secondhand smoke was something I couldn’t control. Nor were the chronic ear infections, cough, strep throat and stinky clothes that came along with it. Every kid deserves to be able to play, sleep and live in clean air without carrying an inhaler.”
Voskowsky said she also climbed for her loved ones, her family, herself and for the firefighters.
“Firefighters run into burning building to save lives,” Voskowsky said. “They’re fully aware that the smoke may kill them immediately, or make them sick later in life,”
Included in the 1,500 participants of the Boston Fight for Air Climb are 83 fire departments from across the Northeast.
According to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), it’s the position of their Department of Health and Safety that there is an increased risk among firefighters of developing acute lung disease during the course of firefighting work.
Alex Singer, a co-founder of NoshOn.It and a member of Voskowsky’s team, was also very excited to participate.
“We primarily work in an online environment and the Fight for Air Climb is a great way to get the team together offline to support an awesome cause like the American Lung Association,” Singer said. “This is our first year participating and the organization of the event has been great. There’s been lots of communication from the organizers and they were quick to respond to a couple of emails I sent.”
Other participants, such as Christopher Kavanah, senior at Emerson College, climbed individually and had a great time.
“It feels great knowing that something so simple like climbing stairs can make such a difference in someone’s life who is suffering from a lung disease,” Kavanah said. “I like how the Boston climb also increases awareness. It was such a positive event that I definitely want to attend again.”
Another individual participant Jenny Huynh, BU freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, challenged herself to the task of climbing 41 floors to help people fight for the air that doesn’t come so easily.
“When I first signed up for the event, I was nervous because I’d never climbed 82 flights of stairs before!” Huynh said. “The climb turned out to be really fun, and knowing that I was raising hundreds of dollars for children with asthma and people living with lung diseases felt amazing.”
Last year the Boston Fight for Air Climb raised $440,000 dollars, and this year participants helped meet the $500,000 goal.
According to the American Lung Association, they are partially funded by these climbing and walking events. Money raised goes towards research so scientists can discover cures and new treatments for lung diseases.
“Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in America and it does exceed both breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer combined,” Hickey said. “I think it’s a cancer that is often caught and diagnosed in stage four when it’s too late.”
The American Cancer Society estimated that in the United States about 228,190 new cases of lung cancer would form and approximately 159,480 deaths from lung cancer would occur. This accounts for around 27 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said after increasing for decades, lung cancer rates are starting to decrease due to a decline in cigarette smoking, which is the primary cause of lung cancer.
The American Lung Association also uses funds from climbs and races to assist with educational programs that support those who wish to stop smoking and give them the tools to live fuller lives.
The association feels there is still so much to learn about the disease, but the money raised from participation in fundraisers will help provide “lifesaving education, research and advocacy” to eventually beat lung cancer through finding a cure.
“We at the American Lung Association think it’s very important to raise awareness to increase measures for screening and also treatment of lung cancer patients so that they can get the care they need as well as the guidance and support of their caregivers, family and friends,” Hickey said. “Our mission is to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease.