Stair climbers rise to the challenge for Fight For Air Climb

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Eight-hundred thousand people in Kansas and Missouri suffer from some kind of lung disease.

In America, more people die every year from lung cancer than colon, prostate, and breast cancers combined. That's why the American Lung Association's Fight For Air Climb is so important.

"You do feel that compression in your chest and it's hard to breathe, which is part of it, so you feel what those individuals that have lung disease are feeling," climber Tracy Garry said.

As if 42 flights aren't enough, Ultra Climbers run the stairs as many times as they can in an hour.

John Willmas did it six times, honoring his wife who has severe asthma and his father who died two years ago of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

"My father went through so much more," says Willmas. "Every time my wife has an asthma attack, what I feel in there is nothing compared to what people who have any lung disease go through. I climb for them."

As FOX4's Karli Ritter and Abby Eden cheered climbers on, hundreds ascended, including the McKeen Family. They climb for three-year-old Adele, who has a rare lung disease.

"Her disease can range from living a fairly normal life to treatments to needing a lung transplant," Adele's mom Kristie said.

Mike McKeen will carry his daughter up the steps on his back, while big sister Evelyn climbs alongside.

Evelyn said, "it's really hard because after a little while, you will get really tired."

A group of firefighters from Concordia traveled hours to get to the Kansas City climb. They climb in 70 pounds of gear, wearing names of friends and loved ones who are fighting lung disease. Levi Whitley has climbed for two years.

"The first 10 stories are okay, and the last 10 you feel like you are going to die," Levi said.

With quadriceps burning, hundreds keep climbing, for advocacy, education and ultimately a cure to this chronic and often deadly disease. Experts say people who have been exposed to long term cigarette smoke or radon need to be screened for lung disease.

The American Lung Association has a hotline staffed by nurses and respiratory therapists. If you have any questions, that number is 1-800-LUNG-USA.