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Climbers take steps to fight lung disease

| Thursday, March 27, 2008, 12:00 p.m.

Thirty-eight floors, 760 steps, 60 pounds of gear.

That's the obstacle Stephen Jones, 43, of Overbrook and his team of fellow firefighters will face Saturday inside the Gulf Tower's stairwell Downtown for Climb Pittsburgh II.

"We like a challenge, obviously," Jones said of the city firefighters from his Mt. Washington station who are participating in the event, which raises money for the American Lung Association. "Last year, we climbed the 45 flights of the One Oxford building in T-shirts and air tanks. That year was good, and now we can go with full turn-out gear."

Climb Pittsburgh challenges participants to collect pledges and then climb the stairs inside one of the city's tall buildings. There's already $26,000 donated; the lung association is on track to double last year's total, said Lara Daly, climb coordinator. Some people signed up because they know someone with a lung disease or enjoy the athletic challenge as much as fundraising, she said.

"I always say this event is the closest to our mission than any of the events we do," Daly said. "The people who participate start to recognize and feel first-hand what it's like for someone who has lung disease. Even if you're in shape, you're going to struggle a little bit with your breathing."

Kimberly Hicks, 36, of Plum registered for the half-climb -- 19 floors -- with her daughter Skylar, 8, who has asthma.

"She has never viewed herself as a sick kid, but when we explained to her that it was a lung disease, she was devastated," Hicks said. "Now she wants to help other kids who have asthma worse than her."

Hicks said she's a little nervous but won't let her daughter down. "I'll keep up with her the best I can," she said.

There are water stations and motivational signs along the way, said Valerie Sedon, 27, of Bethel Park, who participated in last year's climb. She said climbers are sent up in 15-second intervals so the stairwell isn't too crowded, and there is plenty of room for the faster climbers to pass.

Kevin Lynch, 43, of Shadyside likely will be leaving plenty of climbers in his dust. He's among those hoping to finish in five minutes. It's not impossible -- he reached the top floor in One Oxford Center in seven minutes last year, he said.

"There's nothing crazy about it," Lynch said in defense of his five-member team that's been training for the climb. "It's more like you walk them really fast. If I were to run them, I'd last about 10 floors."

Keeping a steady pace is key, Sedon said.

"It's weird, because you get in a rhythm," she said. "The first couple of floors are a shock to your body, then the floors just fly by and, all of sudden, you're at the top."

Today is the last day to register. For more information, visit www.climbpittsburgh.lunginfo.org .

Additional Information:

Climb Pittsburgh II

When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday

Where: Gulf Tower, 707 Grant St., Downtown

What: Full climb: 38 floors; half climb: 19 floors

Cost: $45 registration fee (full climb); $25 registration fee (half climb); $55 minimum pledge

Proceeds: Benefit American Lung Association

Source: American Lung Association

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