Climbing Stairs To Raise Money For The American Lung Association

You know that out-of-breath feeling you get after you've run up a few flights of stairs? On Feb. 9, more than 100 people will run up 32 flights — 413 stairs — at 360 State Street in New Haven to raise money for the American Lung Association in Connecticut.

There is a reason why the American Lung Association puts on stair climbs instead of other athletic events.

"When you get to the top, you feel like what it's like not being able to breathe," said Danielle Ferrari, the American Lung Association's coordinator of the Fight for Air Climb in New Haven. "We have EMTs at the top, giving people oxygen. That's our slogan — 'If you can't breathe, nothing else matters.'"

Connecticut has two Fight for Air Climbs — New Haven's is Feb. 9 and the Hartford climb at CityPlace is April 6. There are more than 60 Fight for Air stair climbs throughout the country that raise more than $8 million for the American Lung Association — money for research, as well as for educational and smoking cessation programs.

New Haven is expected to draw 150 climbers; the Hartford event, in its sixth year, will get about 600, including a large firefighting contingent. The firefighters climb carrying approximately 70 pounds of gear.

Jay Dixon, captain of the Weatogue Fire Station in Simsbury, will participate in the Hartford climb for the fifth year, along with 75-100 other Simsbury volunteer firefighters, friends and family.

"It came in as a flier five years ago and at the last minute, we said, 'You know, that's a right-up-our-alley type of thing — stairs, gear, a challenge," Dixon said.

"We had about 25 people the first year. We've gotten more involved every year. The team keeps getting bigger and bigger."

The nice thing about the climb, Dixon said, is that it's a reminder for the firefighters — himself included — to get, or stay, in shape. CityPlace has 38 floors.

"It wouldn't hurt me to train more," he said Friday. "We have to be physically fit, athletically ready to do our job. I work out year-round. But coming up to this, I might get on the stair climber [more]. They do have some practice climbs at the site."

"Some people do the climb and realize how not in shape they are. It's very challenging, so it's a little kick in the butt for us."

In Hartford, the "elite climbers" are those who expect to finish in 4 minutes, 35 seconds or less for men, and 6:20 or less for women.

Kerry Ann Dobies, 27, of New Haven, has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa and finished a half-marathon, but Feb. 9 in New Haven will be her first stair climb. Dobies is participating in memory of a friend, Catherine Brunel, who was Dobies' host mother in France when Dobies studied abroad in 2005-06. Brunel was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 and died two years ago.

"I'm a student at the School of Public Health at Yale, a second-year master's candidate," Dobies said. "There's a team that's doing the climb, about 10 of us. I heard about it through school. I thought it was a good way to remember her."

Fred Cosgrove was a firefighter in Simsbury who was a member of the climbing team. He had cancer, which eventually went into his lungs, Dixon said. He said that Cosgrove was signed up for the climb last year but was unable to participate because of his declining health. He died in May. One of the team member's mothers died of lung cancer last year. So for the Simsbury group, the Hartford climb is not just a climb or a workout.

"It's become more personal," Dixon said.

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