Dorchester Woman Climbs in Support of the American Lung Association of the Northeast

Rachel Heaton photoThe American Lung Association returns to Boston for its ninth annual Fight for Air Climb: Race Up Boston Place on Saturday, February 1, 2014. About 2,000 climbers are expected, including over 500 firefighters, to tackle the 789 stairs of One Boston Place, one of the tallest buildings in the city, all to raise money in the fight against lung disease. Among the climbers will be Rachel Heaton of Dorchester who will be climbing in Boston for the third year.  Heaton climbs not just for the thrill of reaching the top, but because she supports the work the Lung Association is doing to keep kids from starting to smoke.

“I started smoking when I was just 15 years old and I smoked a pack a day most days until I quit for good in 2011,” says Heaton.  “I want young people to know that smoking is not cool.  The prospect of dying prematurely from tobacco use seems far off for many young people, but it’s a very real risk.     When I was smoking, I attributed the difficulty I had doing things like climbing stairs to being out of shape.  But when I quit, I found I could climb stairs without feeling so out of breath.  Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and it was smoking that was affecting my ability to breathe.” 

Heaton had tried many times to quit smoking before quitting for good. While she was student teaching in Taipei, Taiwan in 2010, she drastically cut back on the number of cigarettes she smoked and began an exercise program.  It was in Taipei that she also developed a love for stairclimbing. She climbed to the top of Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper and, at the time, the world’s tallest.   It was 2046 steps and she reached the top in 31 minutes.

Climbing Taipei 101 is one of Heaton’s most cherished memories as an adult and one of the accomplishments of which she’s most proud.  Heaton says for her, stairclimbing has been a way to push herself to do something she didn’t think she could do.   And when you accomplish one thing that’s a challenge, it’s becomes easier to tackle other things that are challenging, including committing to a healthier lifestyle and overcoming something as daunting as quitting smoking.

Heaton eventually left Taipei and moved with her husband to Boston in 2011. She smoked her last cigarette on New Year’s Eve 2011.  It was shortly thereafter that she was riding the MBTA and saw an advertisement for the 2012 Fight For Air Climb sponsored by the American Lung Association.  She knew she had to sign up. 

“My favorite part of the climb is reaching the top, feeling that sense of accomplishment  and seeing the beautiful Boston harbor  facing the east side of the building,”  says Heaton.  “While I love stair climbing to begin with, this event is particularly special to me because it benefits the American Lung Association.  I suffered from asthma as a child, which was made worse by cigarette smoking and I wholly support the Lung Association’s work to reach out to kids and keep them from ever smoking.  It’s so important to get this message across because tobacco causes so much damage and, once you start, it’s hard to quit.”

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the American Lung Association offers many resources for people who are looking to quit smoking whether it’s their first time trying to quit or their tenth. Visit  to learn more and access a variety of quit smoking tools. 

All proceeds from the Boston Fight for Air Climb will directly fund lung disease research, advocacy and education; including smoking cessation programs, COPD/asthma management, and advocacy for stronger clean air standards. Last year, Race Up Boston Place raised $440,000 to support the mission of the American Lung Association.

 “Race Up Boston Place” is sponsored by CB Richard Ellis, ImmunoGen, Inc., DSCI, Lahey Health, Kindred Hospital Boston and Whole Foods Market The event is also made possible with the support of national Corporate Team partner, Kindred Healthcare.  To learn more about Race Up Boston Place, or to make a donation that could save lives, visit

To support Rachel Heaton and help the American Lung Association find better treatments and cures for lung disease, visiting her personal page at