Higher Gear

February 2019 View more

Firefighter Richard Gray has done nine Fight for Air annual climbs in support of family members.

Think you have what it takes to climb 680 stairs in nine minutes or less?

Each year, the American Lung Association (ALA) hosts its Fight for Air Climb in more than 40 cities across the United States. This year marks the 28th year of the event, and the first climb in the country will be held February 9 at the 31-floor Oakbrook Terrace Tower—the suburbs’ tallest building, which takes an average of nine minutes to climb. The corresponding Chicago event will take place on March 10, when competitors can chose to climb one, two, three, or all four of the Presidential Towers.

“When someone participates in the Fight for Air Climb, they often gasp for air when their lungs burn once they reach the top,” says ALA Executive Director Kristen Young. “This is similar to how it can feel for a person with lung disease every day.”

The climbs raise money to help further the ALA’s mission of promoting awareness of lung diseases, raising money for research, and funding local educational programs to help children better manage their asthma and to encourage people to quit smoking.

The events draw teams ranging from families to first responders to lawyers. Last year, Young says the youngest climber was 5, while the oldest was 73. They even have teams that are all kids, like local Girl Scouts troops who want to challenge themselves. Several corporations also field teams, including Redbox, Molex, DuPage Medical Group, ComEd, and Kohl’s.
Many, including firefighter Richard Gray of the North Riverside Fire Department, do the climbs to support family members who have lung disease.

“I started after my father received a right lung transplant in August of 2010,” Gray, 50, says. “Every year, I dedicate my climb to a family member who suffers from lung disease or who has passed away from it.”
This month’s Oakbrook Terrace climb will be Gray’s ninth. He also participated twice in the Presidential Towers Climb in Chicago.

Several area fire departments partake in the ALA’s First Responders Challenge. Firefighters must do the climb in full gear, including helmets, hoods, pants, coats, gloves, boots, and air packs, which can tack on an extra 45 pounds. Not to be outdone, the Oakbrook event also has a category for police officers. In 2018, Elmhurst took the top spots in both the fire and police challenges.

For more information on the ALA Fight for Air Climbs, visit lung.org.

Photo courtesy American Lung Association