For Niagara Falls Woman, Fight For Air Climb in Buffalo is Meaningful in Many Ways

Paula Shank, who was told she may never walk again, climbs in memory of friend lost to lung cancer and to inspire others to raise needed research funds

The American Lung Association of the Northeast will host its 4th annual Fight for Air Climb at One Seneca Tower in downtown Buffalo on Saturday, March 8.  Among the hundreds of participants climbing at the event this year will be Paula Shank of Niagara Falls, a 62-year-old woman who is committed to helping the Lung Association raise the dollars it needs to save more lives through research, education and advocacy. Paula climbs not just to celebrate the fact that she can climb but because she feels compelled to help find a cure for lung cancer which cut her good friend’s life short.  She also climbs to set an example for the younger generation that by getting involved and raising money for a cause, you can change things and have a positive effect on people’s lives.

Paula Shank photo
Paula Shank is pictured sporting the bronze medal she won at the 2013 Fight For Air Climb in Buffalo.

“For me, raising money to fund the research that will provide the answers to cure, treat and better understand diseases like lung cancer is what drives me to participate in events like the Fight for Air Climb” says Shank, who is herself a cancer survivor.  “My friend Christine was only 59 when she succumbed to lung cancer and by the time it was discovered it was already at stage four.  We need to do more to prevent this disease and if we can’t prevent it, find it as early as possible.”

 Paula noted that her friend Christine, lived in an area of California that was ravaged by a series of fires which left behind a lot of smoke and toxic ash.  It wasn’t long afterwards that Christine developed a cough that just wouldn’t go away. Doctors first thought it was bronchitis and then suspected pleurisy before finally diagnosing her with lung cancer.  Paula hopes that by raising money to support the Lung Association’s mission, researchers can learn more about the disease so doctors can detect it at an earlier, more treatable stage. She also hopes that more people will become aware that poor air quality leads to lung disease and that a cold or cough that doesn’t go away is a reason to visit the doctor.  Just this past October, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared air pollution a human carcinogen, like tobacco smoke and asbestos, calling it a leading cause of lung cancer worldwide.

Despite Paula’s strong commitment to finding a cure for lung cancer, some might say she is an unlikely participant in an event as challenging as the Fight for Air Climb.  Doctors told her it was unlikely she’d ever walk again after an accident crushed her spine, giving her no choice but to undergo painful back surgery which, while successful, left her with a paralyzed right leg.   Some well-meaning medical professionals even suggested to Paula that she take up a craft that she could do while sitting to keep busy as it was so unlikely she’d ever be able to regain the strength needed to walk.  But Paula proved the experts wrong.  With a healthy dose of sheer determination coupled with physical therapy and complementary therapies that included massage, reflexology, aromatherapy and Reiki, Paula not only walked again, but has gone on to climb the pyramid El Castillo at Chichen Itza in Yucatan, Mexico and now Buffalo’s own skyscraper One Seneca Tower.

“Many people younger than me tell me they cannot climb up the stairs at One Seneca Tower and I tell them ‘’yes you can’,” says Paula, whose team is aptly named A.C.S, which stands for All Can Succeed.  Last year Paula said her only goal was to finish and reach the top but she ended up taking the bronze medal for being the third fastest climber in her age category.  This year Paula’s goal is simply to beat her time from last year and raise as much money as she can.  She says the one thing recovering from her injuries has taught her is that if you think you cannot do something, you won’t be able to do it;   but if you tell yourself that you can do something, you absolutely can and the possibilities of how much you can achieve are endless.”

“The Lung Association is fortunate to have committed people like Paula Shank supporting our Fight for Air Climb in Buffalo and working with us to fulfill our mission of saving lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.  “Paula’s story is a lesson to all of us that no matter how insurmountable our goals might seem, we can achieve them if we choose not to give up. We’re grateful to have Paula as a partner in our Fight for Air.”

This is the fourth year the Lung Association is hosting its Fight for Air Climb in Buffalo.  Last year the event drew approximately 400 participants, including more than 35 who competed in a separate Firefighter Challenge. The Lung Association is expecting 500 plus climbers this year and hopes to raise $120,000. Participants race or walk up the building’s 38 flights (800 stairs) to raise money to fight lung disease.

The Fight for Air Climb is generously sponsored by Roswell Park Cancer Institute, The Buffalo News, WGRZ-TV, Best Fitness, Erie County Fire Chief's Mutual Aid Organization, Fleet Feet Sports, Genentech, One Seneca Tower, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the Depew Fire Department and the New York Institute of Massage. The event is also made possible with the support of national Corporate Team partner, Kindred Healthcare.

Registration is $35 and all participants are expected to raise a minimum of $100. For more information, or to register for the Fight for Air Climb at One Seneca Tower, visit ClimbofYourLife.org. To make a donation in support of Paula Shank, visit http://go.lungne.org/shank2014