INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — 47 floors. 1,054 steps.
Each flight of stairs in Indiana’s tallest building left “Fight For Air” participants with a little less breath.
Panting and sweating, they continued racing their way up the Salesforce Tower in Indianapolis to support people struggling to draw their next breath — victims of lung disease.
Nearly 1,500 people participated in Saturday morning’s stair climb — the biggest in Indiana — raising more than $300,000 for research, initiatives to help local children manage asthma and free programs to help Hoosiers quit smoking.
The charity event organized by the American Lung Association also paid tribute to first responders who risk lung damage as part of their mission to keep others safe.
Dozens of participants attempted to complete the climb in full firefighter gear, lugging up to 75 pounds of protective clothing, helmets, boots, air tanks and other equipment up the steps of the Salesforce Tower.
“People sometimes look at athletes like we’re heroes but these first responders are the real heroes,” said Jim Sorgi, a former quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts and first-time Fight For Air climber.
He and Joey Vandever, a former right fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, strapped themselves into firefighter suits and completed the race together, lingering at the finish line to offer high-fives and encouragement to other climbers.
Jim Campbell, a Pike Township firefighter, raced his way up the 47 flights of stairs a staggering 10 times to mark the tenth annual Fight For Air climb in Indianapolis.
This year’s stair climb – his tenth in Indianapolis – helped him commemorate a life cut short. Campbell lost a relative to lung disease 72 hours before the event, he told News 8.
Sara Schluge, another returning participant, said she and three sons climbed to honor her late mother, Sandi Beeler.
Beeler died in 2011 after battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She would have celebrated her 68th birthday on Sunday.
Chronic lower respiratory disease, including COPD, is the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD.
More than 35 million Americans suffer from some form of lung disease. More than 1 million live in Indiana, including 4,500 Hoosiers battling lung cancer.
The Fight For Air climb raised 95 percent of its $320,000 fundraising goal by Saturday afternoon. Contributions can be made online.
Learn more about how the American Lung Association uses donation money to help save lives and prevent lung disease.