American Lung Association's Fight for Air Climb raises money for lung disease research

UB student raises money for the American Lung Association in charity event


Kristin Waldby will be fighting to breathe as she climbs the 800 steps of One Seneca Tower, Buffalo’s tallest building, in hopes that one day, those with lung disease will no longer struggle for air like her mother did.

Her mother, Kathy, died of lung cancer about a year ago.

Now, Waldby, a junior sociology and communication major, will be participating in the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb on March 14, a fundraiser for lung disease awareness, education and research. Waldby raised $1,050 for the association – the second highest amount raised by any climber this year, according to the Fight For Air Climb website.

Lung disease “touches almost everyone,” said Annalise de Zoete, the event manager of Buffalo’s Fight for Air Climb.

In November 2011, lung disease touched Waldby.

She will remember her senior year of high school – a year typically devoted to senioritis, prom and worrying about college – as the year her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“It became so important to me to find a fundraiser specifically for lung cancer and lung disease,” Waldby said. “This was the first one I had ever heard of or seen so I was really excited to be able to participate.”

Waldby remembers her mother developing a chronic cough that remained mysterious even after numerous doctor appointments.

After receiving a chest x-ray, the doctors found the cancer, thus beginning Kathy’s battle and Waldby’s determination to help the cause.

Lung disease – including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and influenza – is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Lung cancer is the most fatal cancer and each year causes more deaths than the next three most common cancers combined, according to the American Lung Association’s website.

“The higher up you get, the thinner the air gets, so it’s actually tough to breathe if you don’t pace yourself, but that’s the point,” Waldby said. “We’re raising money for lung cancer and lung disease. We’re trying to make it so everyone can breathe, so it’s a really unique way to bring awareness to that.”

This will be Waldby’s second year participating in the climb. Anyone can do it individually, however, a large portion of the climbers are on teams. Waldby and her extended family from Rochester and Syracuse make up the team “Climbing for Kathy.”

It is people like Waldby and teams like “Climbing for Kathy” that are responsible for the increasing impact of the Fight for Air Climb. In the five years since the event was established, it has grown significantly.

“The climb has gone from nothing to raising over $125,000 last year,” De Zoete said.

Last year, almost 500 climbers participated and raised an average of $250 per climber. This year, their goal this year is to raise $150,000.

The fundraiser has set the minimum donation requirement of $100 for each climber. They can get sponsored or raise money on their own.

Waldby has received donations primarily by using social media. She asks people to either donate or spread the word, a process that has been successful for her.

De Zoete said 89 cents of every dollar raised goes to the American Lung Association, which is dedicated to funding the awareness, education and research of lung disease.

Although the Fight for Air Climb is making an impact, in general lung disease is a greatly underrepresented cause, according to the coordinators. This is in large part due to the stigma that surrounds the disease’s connection to smoking, according to the American Lung Association.

Waldby wants to get rid of the stigma associated with lung disease.

Her mother never smoked a day in her life. Waldby said it’s important people know there are many causes of lung disease.

She said everyone deserves equal support, no matter what caused the illness.

Many people with lung disease and their loved ones feel shameful or guilty about their illness. Research and clinical trials for the disease are significantly underfunded and celebrities and community leaders are less likely to advocate for the disease, according to the American Lung Association.

“Because there is such a stigma with lung cancer and lung disease’s connection to smoking and other environmental causes, people aren’t as willing to fundraise for the cause; but there are people who have lung disease, who have lung cancer that never smoke, and even those who did smoke deserve as much care as anyone else,” Waldby said. “Everyone deserves to have a fighting chance.”

That fighting chance increases with the elevation of the climbers as they ascend the 38 floors of One Seneca Tower.

Last year, Waldby’s aunt picked her up from her dorm to take her to the climb since her mother was too ill to drive.

As Waldby walked to the car, she saw her mother in the passenger seat. Waldby’s mother had a “climb of her own,” traveling from her home in Syracuse to Buffalo in such poor health.

Waldby’s motivation has only grown with her mother memory in mind.

This memory has fueled her to climb the 800 steps.

Her mother’s memory will be with her for this year’s climb and for years to come. As long as there is a climb somewhere near her, she will be there, Waldby said.