Local Resident Climbs For A Cause


May 11, 2010

Most people take breathing for granted, but some have to fight for every breath because of lung disease and air pollution.

For Los Altos resident Michael Cartmell, 61, the struggle is personal. After doctors diagnosed Cartmell's brother, Mark, with lung cancer two years ago, Cartmell searched for a productive way to channel his concern and support Mark's battle.

Enter the American Lung Association's Fight for Air Climb. The annual fundraisers, which usually occur in skyscrapers, stadiums or arenas, involve climbing steps – a lot of steps – to underwrite research for cures to different types of lung disease.

Cartmell completed the 2010 Fight for Air Climb, held April 24 at the Aon Center in Los Angeles, climbing 63 stories – a total of 1,377 steps – in just more than 13 minutes to win the gold medal in the Men's 60-and-Older Division. But "the most important prize is just finishing at all," Cartmell said.

"I learned of the sport after Mark was diagnosed," Cartmell said. "Because of the amazing chemotherapy protocols now available, whose research was significantly funded by the American Lung Association, Mark has not only survived, but has fully regained his health."

Cartmell discovered the sport when he eyed an advertisement for the event from his San Francisco office building. It got him thinking.

"Why not do something like that?" Cartmell said.

It didn't take long before he was totally hooked on stair climbing.

"The great thing about this sport, apart from its overwhelming ugliness – unless you like drywall, pain, misery and exhaustion – is that it doesn't take much time," Cartmell said.

Competitors in the various Fight for Air Climb events promote and support the idea of healthy lungs by demonstrating their physical capabilities and collecting a minimum of $100 in donations from sponsors.

"Just like any fundraising event during this economy, we definitely felt some struggle with convincing participants to join because of the fundraising minimum commitment," said Taleen Seropian, development manager for the American Lung Association of California. "While we thought it might be a big obstacle, it turned out to be just a worry."

The AON Center Fight for Air Climb raised $157,607, which will go to fight air pollution, asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The lung association sponsors incentive and corporate matching programs. Cartmell's employer, Northern Trust, N.A., which has offices in Los Altos, contributed to the cause.

"(My company) is deeply committed to philanthropic endeavors locally and nationally," he said. "Northern enthusiastically encourages us to participate in philanthropic and community programs and financially supports our individual efforts through such programs as corporate matching."

Approximately 700 stair masters participated in the Los Angeles event, including a group of firefighters who climbed to the top in full gear.

"People are very committed to their causes," Cartmell said.

Through advocacy, research and fundraisers, the American Lung Association has been searching for cures and solutions to lung disease for more than 100 years.

"We are an organization people trust, and we have a mission people want to be a part of," Seropian said. "Add a cool, fun, unique event to that mix, and success is guaranteed."

For more information, visit www.lung.org.