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LUNG FORCE Heroes

Catherine W.

My story came to life 11 years ago when I turned 30. I developed a chronic cough that took over my life. My poor co-workers. How did they deal with my noise? I am already a loud person, then add in the cough of no end... it was bad! Nobody wants THAT loud of a "Catherine." Turned out, I had asthma, as an adult. Great, now what.

So for many years after that diagnosis, I took every combination of inhaler that they show on the inhaler poster you see in the pulmonologist's office. You know, the one that the doctor points at it and says, "We'll start you here and see how you do. Come back in 6 months to check in." 6 months later, "lets add another medicine." And repeat.

It became increasingly frustrating for me when I really truly wasn't getting better; that I had to accept my disease and how to manage it. So, I took matters into my own hands. I started to get healthy, naturally! I ate better, cutting out dairy (bad for phlegm), got my mind and spirit in line, did regular acupuncture, exercised regularly and set goals to create the life I wanted, not the one asthma was going to make for me.

Fast forward 2017. A friend asks me if I want to climb Terminal Tower in downtown Cleveland, OH for (none other than) the American Lung Association. Me? How? I have asthma, I can't climb with ASTHMA!" See how I let it define me? Boy did I realize later how much fun I missed out on.

Fall 2018. That same friend tries again. (She's annoyingly persistent like that, that's what makes her such a good friend. Get one like her, they're good for you.) "Hey Cat, you want to climb this year?" In that persistent tone, she was more or less saying I didn't have a choice and here's the date. What do I do? I was at a point in my life that I was feeling better, taking better care of myself so I had no excuses left. I was tired of letting asthma take over me. I was tired of being defined by it. So I said YES.

I didn't know what the heck I was doing. I didn't know how I would train or how my lungs would handle it, so I simple just started. I committed myself to 2 days, then 3 then 5 days a week workouts. I joined a gym, I made a playlist of kick-butt girl power songs, I turned it up loud and I trained. I trained for ME. I was going to climb that tower. I remember the first few workouts when I'd do a mile on the elliptical or climb a couple hundred stairs, how good that felt. Every step was an accomplishment. I had to remember that. I had my little red rescue inhaler ready to go, I used it. It was fall/winter after all at this point. I wasn't going to be super woman! But I never forgot to honor those small victories each day I trained! Those victories got me thru it!

February 2019. Cleveland OH, Key Tower. 58 floors. 1358 steps. I was ready! With the emotional and financial fundraising support of my family, friends, colleagues and just folks that barely knew me but heard my story and supported me because they too suffered from lung disease, I did something incredible. I, an asthmatic, climbed Key Tower in just over 15 minutes. 15 MINUTES! It was one of the best moments of my life. Oh, and did I mention I was one of the top fundraisers for that years' event? I guess l wanted to step up and impact a few lives that day.

I didn't stop there. Two weeks later, I climbed Rhodes Tower in Columbus, OH. 40 floors. 880 steps. Completed in just over 9 minutes. What a rush! I'm addicted to this mission now. I want others to feel as good as me, even when you feel like you have a death sentence. Not to let lung disease define you. To "Just Breathe" (the name of my team). Take one step, just one. Start there. Tell your story. Start training. Take it slow if you need too. But you also can climb that tower. Because you believe you can, you will! Together we will "Fight For Air" and find a cure for all lung disease so we don't have to suffer anymore! Oh, and now I'm going to be that persistent annoying friend to you. "Hey you, want to climb with me in 2020?" (say, YES!) Cheers, Cat

First published: October 18, 2019

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Hero stories are the point of view of the Hero and not necessarily the American Lung Association. The Lung Association does not endorse any specific provider, facility or treatment.

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