Sisters to Climb One HSBC Center to Remember their Dad & Support Lung Cancer Research

Wally’s Warriors Will Join Lung Association at Fight for Air Climb on March 9

(February 27, 2013)

For the second year in a row “Wally’s Warriors” will be climbing in the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb at One HSBC Center in Buffalo.  The team, co-captained by sisters Shannon  Bauer of Williamsville and Katie Gemmer of Tonawanda, will be climbing in memory of their dad, Wally Thompson, a  Buffalo native who lost  his battle with lung cancer in 2006.  His daughters decided to name the team Wally’s Warriors because they remember their dad as a warrior - not just when it came to his battle with lung cancer, but in every challenge he faced in his life.

Wallys Warriors photo
Sisters Shannon Bauer (left) and Katie Gemmer (right) are the co-captains of Wally's Warriors.

Before their dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, neither Bauer nor Gemmer realized that lung cancer was the number one cancer killer of men and women, accounting for 160, 000 American deaths annually.  While their father had been a smoker, the diagnosis still came as a shock because he stayed so active and never let anything slow him down. A proud alumnus of Niagara University, Wally played basketball for the Purple Eagles while in college and later served as Assistant Coach of the team. He was a physical education teacher who coached various sports throughout his career and refereed high school basketball after retiring. He was also an avid golfer.   No matter what he was involved in, Wally was someone who played to win.  But despite his resolve to beat lung cancer, the odds were heavily stacked against him.  The fact is, over half of people with lung cancer die within one year of being diagnosed.

“Not a day goes by when we don’t’ miss our father’s presence in our lives,” said   Bauer.  “This climb is a way for us to honor him.  It’s our hope  that by raising money to support the research the Lung Association is  funding , someday another family will be spared the pain and loss of losing a loved one to this disease.”

“Millions of people in the Northeast are living with lung cancer and other lung diseases, and countless more family members and loved ones are affected by their diagnoses,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “The American Lung Association is committed to reducing the burden of lung disease on all Americans through education, advocacy and research.  We’re also working hard to reduce the stigma of this disease; no one deserves lung cancer.”

When it comes to fundraising, Wally’s Warriors are themselves playing to win.  At the moment the 13-member team comprised of friends and family members has raised over $5,200 leading the pack in total dollars raised and exceeded what they raised last year.  Wally’s daughter, Katie, has raised over $2,300 and leads in individual fundraising.

Katie Gemmer recalls having to raise money by selling raffle tickets for her high school volleyball team.  Her father helped her sell tickets and he was never bashful about asking friends and colleagues to contribute a cause he deemed worthwhile.  Years later, Katie feels the same way about the climb and she, too, has not been hesitant to ask for support.

"My father, my hero, never quit anything he started,” said Katie Gemmer. “So I am picking up where he left off and continuing his fight, his legacy, for something I believe can make a difference. I can't think of a better way to honor him. I try and live a life he would be proud of and display the values he instilled in me. From this great loss in our lives, we take away a valuable lesson and will raise our children to know the reality that comes with smoking."

Another special person will be on Bauer and Gemmers' minds as they ascend the 38 floors of One HSBC Center this year – their Uncle Bob, who they are dedicating this year’s climb to.  Uncle Bob was their dad’s best friend at Niagara University and became family when he married Wally’s twin sister.  Bauer and Gemmer recall how their uncle was especially attentive to them after their father died, making sure they were doing okay and stepping in to help however he could. The two sisters were grateful to have their uncle to lean on and their relationship with him grew even closer. They were dealt another blow when he lost his battle with throat cancer in late 2012.

“Another reason I climb is because I think the work the Lung Association is doing to prevent kids from smoking is critical.  I never want to see any of my kids smoke and I think it’s important for them to hear how dangerous tobacco is,” said Bauer. “Tobacco has already taken a tremendous toll on our family alone and there are many more families like ours out there who suffer every day because of tobacco-caused disease.”

Wally’s Warriors will be easily spotted at the Fight for Air Climb on March 9.  They’ll be sporting their purple jerseys in honor of their dad and Uncle Bob’s alma mater, Niagara University.  The jerseys’ sleeves display the initials “WFT” in memory of their dad and “UB” in memory of their Uncle Bob. 

“We’re looking forward to the climb,” says Bauer.  “We had a great time last year.  The energy at the event from beginning to end is just amazing.  It’s a very special day and it feels really good to be supporting a cause we feel so strongly about.”

Those who want to join Bauer and Gemmer in the fight for air can register for the event or make a donation at Climbofyourlife.org.  This is the third year the Lung Association is hosting the Fight for Air Climb in Buffalo.  Last year the event drew more than 325 participants, including 50 firefighters who competed in a separate Firefighter Challenge.   Participants race or walk up the building’s 38 flights (800 stairs) all to raise money to fight lung disease.

The Fight for Air Climb is generously sponsored by Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo News, WGRZ Channel 2, 103.3 The Edge, Fleet Feet  Sports and One HSBC Center. The event is also made possible with the support of national Corporate Team sponsor, Kindred Healthcare.

Those who have questions about the Fight for Air Climb in Buffalo should contact Jaime Anderson at buffaloclimb@LungNE.org.   More information about the Fight for Air Climb is also available on the event website.