Since 1904, the American Lung Association (ALA) has been the leading the fight for healthy lungs and better air quality. From discovering an effective treatment for children with tuberculosis and the cause of infant respiratory stress syndrome to strengthening the Clean Air Act and passing the Tobacco Control Act, the ALA has been a driving force behind lung health and disease prevention in America. However, lung cancer is still the leading cancer for both men and women in the U.S., and while air quality around the country has improved significantly over the last 20 years, nearly 138.5 million people—almost 44 percent of the nation—live where pollution levels are often dangerous.


While research, education and advocacy have been driving forces behind the ALA’s overall success, the organization is a major proponent of drawing in public support. There are a number of events held every year to raise awareness and funds. One of its most popular fundraisers is the Fight For Air Climb. This unique event, now in its eleventh season, is held in multiple locations around the country and hosted in prominent skyscrapers, stadiums or arenas made to challenge participants as they walk, run or race up hundreds of steps.


Boston’s “Race Up Boston Place” is very dear to my heart. On February 4, more than 1,300 individuals climbed up the 601 ft. building in downtown Boston – that’s 82 flights of stairs and 789 steps. By comparison, the climb is 50 feet higher than the Washington Monument and equivalent to the Space Needle in Seattle. It’s no joke! The climbers are individuals, members of teams and firefighters (yes, they climb with their full gear), all making their way up for different reasons.


I climb in memory of my Grandpa, who we lost to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – better known as COPD –in late 2012. For many like me, we climb to remember someone who passed from lung disease. Others are battling their own lung issues – like asthma. For some, it’s simply a fun challenge. No matter the reason, everyone is there give back to a good cause. This year, the Boston event raised $450,000, bringing the 11 year total to more than $3 million.


Why is the Fight For Air Climb so successful? The Climb has grown significantly over the last decade, and while a lot of the success can be traced back to strong marketing, PR and advertising campaigns, a major underlying driver of success is the passion behind all those involved. It really shows through in all aspects of the event. Registration opens months before the event, giving people time to form teams and set fundraising goals. As the goals are met, participants receive incentives to hit higher marks and emails from the event coordinator. The ALA also encourages comradery among participants– hosting meet-up events around Boston to get people psyched for the big day. Another great part of the campaign before the Climb is the social strategy. Coordinators developed a fundraising app to make it even easier, share email templates and badges for your email signature, and encourage participants customize their personal web page and share their reason for climbing.


On the day of the event, staff and volunteers encourage the use of social media and the building lobby is filled with interactive stations – like signing boards to dedicate the climb to loved ones. And this year, since the climb took place in an enclosed stairwell, which is not ideal for spectators, the coordinators added in a camera at the finish line so cheerleaders waiting at the bottom could watch on a monitor. Throughout the climb, there are volunteers positioned in the stairwell cheering climbers on and signs posted on the walls with pictures and quotes sharing the reasons people are participating – that alone makes me want to go back each year. Another amazing part of the climb is the other participants you pass, or who pass you, on the way up. I know I wouldn’t make it to the top without the support of my best friend who has climbed with me every year, or the way everyone cheers each other on, even as they can barely breathe themselves.


At the top, there are photo booth stations with ALA branding, t-shirts for all participants and lots of other goodies. After the event, there is an awards ceremony for the top individuals, teams and firehouses at a local bar – and a few days later, the final results are shared online. This year, one of the most motivating things to see was the name of the top female finisher. It was the event coordinator who I’ve been receiving emails from for the last four years, once again showcasing the dedication of everyone involved.


If you’re interested in participating, there are still a number of Climbs taking place around the Northeast through June. Otherwise, you can learn more about the American Lung Association’s great work here, and registration for Race Up Boston Place 2017 opens in August. See you at the top!