By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
For most people, breathing is a natural occurrence, but for people with asthma or other respiratory illnesses, each breath matters. According to a 2017 report, 1 in 13 people have asthma and if not managed or treated properly it could lead to death. So, the American Lung Association (ALA) decided to raise awareness for lung diseases with the Fight For Air Climb.
Every year in Milwaukee, teams and individuals register to climb the US Bank Center building stairwell. Starting at ground level, participants make their way to the top of the 42-story building which equates to about 1,034 steps, according to their Facebook page.
The firefighters, donning their gear go first on a separate stairwell, followed by the ultimate climbers who climb more than once, then in waves the rest of the participants make their way to the top.
Gwendolyn Long is one of 3,250 climbers. It’s her seventh year with the Fight For Air Climb and her first year doing it on a team.
Ten years ago, Long’s nephew Travell Richardson Sr. passed away due to breathing complications as a result of an asthma attack. He was 22-years old at the time and away from home.
“After he passed,” Long said, “I wanted to do something in his legacy.”
She began looking for ways to participate and raise awareness. At first, she volunteered at asthma-related events, and in 2010 she did her first climb. The climb had come to her attention while browsing the ALA website.
“I saw that, and thought I could do that,” she said.
And she did. That first year, it took her between 23-25 minutes. Her best time so far.
“It was no joke,” she said. “It was rough.”
During that time, Long had been visiting the gym, which she believed helped her prepare for the upward climb. Even though she found the stairwell intimidating, she was motivated to get to the top.
Initially, she only planned to go halfway, but when someone told her should wouldn’t get a medal she kept climbing. Despite her chest hurting, her legs were pumping and ready to continue.
Although she climbed it alone, Long cited the other participants as positive influencers who pushed her to carry on. The cheers of volunteers closer to the top also inspired her to keep stepping.
“It was tough but I was just motivated to get to the top,” she said.
Although the first year was difficult on Long emotionally, she didn’t let it stop her and when it came time to sign up for the following year, she put her name on the list.
This year, however, is a little different. On top of being the 10-year anniversary of Richardson’s passing, it’s Long’s first year with a team. She’s made t-shirts, taken team members on practice climbs and prepared them for what’s to come.
“It’s been an experience having a team,” she said.
Given that each member moves at a different pace, Long doesn’t think they’ll be sticking together during the climb. Her nieces will probably move faster, but she plans to be at least ten minutes behind them.
In preparation for the event, she’s working hard to stay active. Like the years before, Long will think about her nephew, enjoy the comradery and take each step as it comes because it’s just stairs,” she said.
The climb will take place Saturday, March 10, at the US Bank Building. There’s still time to participate and help ALA reach their goal of $720,000.