– By John Wilmas, administrative assistant
One step. Two steps. Breathe. My lungs are on fire. Legs please don’t give out. I have a whole hour of climbing this building still.
These were just some of the thoughts running through my head as I raced up to the top of the Met building in downtown Saint Louis. It was the 9th annual Fight for Air Master the Met stair climb, hosted by the American Lung Association, and I was working to trick my body into persevering on April Fool’s Day.
Let’s rewind a few years back when I started at PGAV at the end of 2012. It was just my second day when two nice PGAVers asked if I wanted to climb this crazy tall building right across the street called the Met building. I figured, why not?
In 2013, Mike Cunnings, Andrew Murray, PJ Tamayo, and I formed a stair climbing team here at PGAV to race in the Master the Met Fight for Air Climb. We raised over $500 for a great cause and our completion times were pretty good, especially for a bunch of newbies. So we expanded the team to five the following year with Rachael Clarke (Dolan) joining the team. We raced in a few more climbs that year, but I didn’t want to stop there.
In 2014-15 we grew the team even further to seven members, raising nearly $2,000. After learning lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer of both men & women in the US, that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the 3rd leading cause of death in America, and asthma is the #1 chronic disease of children, I was determined to grow the PGAV climbing team even bigger. The ALA provides support and education for those living with lung disease, and I wanted to help support their mission by growing the team – the more climbers, the more funds for the ALA, and the more camaraderie with my coworkers. Plus, climbing stairs is beneficial to your overall health. It was a win-win. In 2016, our team grew to 33 members, with half of them from PGAV, and we succeeded in raising $5,398 for the American Lung Association. Having my co-workers climb with me made me realize that with a little enthusiastic push, I was able to get them moving and become more active. As a team we were all able to climb 40 floors. Together we were stronger than just climbing as individuals.
Each year as I climbed in more stair races across the country, I found there was more to just trying to get a good climb time. It was about raising money for a great cause to help people in need. Both my father, who passed away in December 2016 from COPD, and my wife, who suffers from severe asthma, have had serious lung conditions throughout their lives, and so the cause is close to my heart. I also have many other friends and family affected by lung disease.
Fast forwarding to this year’s Master the Met Fight for Air Climb, our team has more than doubled, with more than a third from PGAV. Historically, Mike Konzen, our principal and chair, has sponsored our climbing team with race gear; but this year he took on the challenge directly and climbed 40 floors with all of us! His own contribution to our fundraising efforts significantly helped inspire more PGAVers to sign up for the team, boosting the headcount to an impressive 73! Many PGAVers climbed alongside their spouses as well, which was great to see. Our team succeeded in raising more than $9,000 for the American Lung Association. I’m proud to work for a company dedicated to helping our local community and region.
I have many goals in the years to come for the PGAV “StairNinjas” climbing team: Growing the team, raising more money, staying healthy; but above all else, helping everyone afflicted by lung disease.
FIGHT FOR AIR.
For more on the Stair Ninja, follow #lungmissouri and #neverstopmoving, and enjoy this highlight reel from our 2017 Master the Met Fight for Air Climb!