Why We Climb

We climb for our friends and loved ones who suffer from lung cancer and all lung diseases. Let's make sure everyone can benefit from healthy lungs.

Denise Waddingham

My name is Denise Waddingham, and this is why I make Every Step Count

Iowa resident Denise Waddingham signed up for the Fight For Air Climb in Downtown Des Moines in the winter of 2017 not knowing that her reason for climbing would change dramatically in just a few months. Then on February 1, 2018 her mother passed away after a 15-year battle with chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD).

Throughout the years, Waddingham watched her mother’s COPD progress until she was required to be on oxygen 24 hours a day and could no longer stand.

“It was heartbreaking to see my once vibrant mom not vibrant anymore,” said Waddingham. “I climb to get a small glimpse of what she dealt with daily.”

After her mother’s passing, Waddingham saw an outpouring of support by her friends and family. Many donated to her Fight For Air Climb to memorialize her mother.

“It’s been just a few months since she died and I miss her so dearly. This year’s climb I will dedicate to her memory. It will mean so much more to me this year and will be quite emotional,” she said. “Each email I received stating a new donation was made brought tears to my eyes -- a tear for not having my mom here, a tear for the pain she went through all those years with fighting to breathe, a tear for other’s kind thoughts to donate to such a needed cause, and a tear for all the others in the world fighting lung disease.”

2019 was the third year that Waddingham participated in the Fight For Air Climb, and the first year that she formed a team with her family, Team Marcia, Marcia, Marcia, in honor of her mom. Family cheered them on at the towers in Downtown Des Moines and Team Marcia, Marcia, Marcia raised over $5,000 in 2019 and 2020.

Tom Muselman

We are Team 27, and this is why we make Every Step Count

Local Des Moines resident and double lung transplant survivor Tom Muselman climbs the four buildings of the Fight For Air Climb in Downtown Des Moines to help raise awareness and research funding for lung disease, an illness he suffered from for almost 30 years.

Muselman’s sons, Jeff and Jason, started climbing in the Fight For Air Climb in downtown Des Moines in 2010, shortly after their father received a double lung transplant. Their climbing team name, Team 27, originated because Muselman suffered from lung disease for 27 years; he was the 27th recipient of a lung transplant from the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics; and his transplant was on June 27, 2009. In 2011, Muselman himself was healthy enough to take part in the Fight For Air Climb, and has been climbing ever since.

“I only climbed one building out of the three the first year, but I felt like I accomplished something. Now I climb all four towers,” said Muselman. “The main reason that I climb is that I would like everyone to breathe clean air and hope that no one else goes through what I went through. People don’t realize what it is to breathe. I couldn’t get the air I needed in my lungs or out of my lungs. It is a big deal to me. We need to do anything we can do to fight lung disease.”

The team, which has grown from three people in 2010 to more than 100 people, is one of the top fundraising teams in the nation. In 2018, Muselman was the Fight For Air Climb Des Moines’ highest individual fundraiser and the team raised more than $20,000. Over the last nine years, they have raised a over $240,000 for the Fight For Air. Team 27 celebrated their 10th year as a team in 2020.

Climb Your Way

My name is Susan Warmerdam, and this is why I make Every Step Count

Hi, I'm Susan, and six years ago I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes and adrenal gland, and had gone undetected for five to seven years. I never smoked, and I felt fine (except for an allergy-like cough). So, hearing that I had an inoperable and incurable disease - with a 50% chance of living a year and 1.6% of surviving five years - brought about a plethora of emotions hard to describe.

Despite the hopeless medical statistics, I was determined to do everything within my control to fight my disease. I did extensive research in both western medicine and holistic practices, and took every step to embrace wellness and get the best medical care possible. I received treatment at Northwestern (which included two years on a daily targeted cancer treatment drug, one clinical trial, and ultimately three surgeries). I grew my faith exponentially. I practiced numerous alternative methods. And, I completely changed my diet - eliminating sugar, meats and dairy - and moved to a primarily plant-based diet. I believe all of these things worked together to help me beat the number one cancer killer… I've been off all treatment for a little over four years!

I have made it my passion to bring as much awareness to lung cancer and raise as much money for research as I can (fyi, my chemo drug started out as an experimental treatment for my type of cancer and helped prolong my life - all thanks to research). I want to help prevent this horrible disease, which took my father’s life in 1999 and several friends' lives since then, from affecting others. I am a spokesperson for the American Lung Association, who has given me a platform from which to advocate and fundraise. Together with my friends, family and colleagues, we have raised over $250,000 and funded four lung cancer research studies to help find the causes, prevention, early detection and more personalized treatments for lung cancer.

Like most of the population, I thought lung cancer was a smokers' disease, but ANYONE CAN GET LUNG CANCER. There are over 380,000 people living with it today (60% of them have never smoked or are former smokers that had quit). I climb 2,340 stairs (that's 180 stories!) to bring awareness to and raise money for lung cancer research. Please support all those who have been touched by the disease.

Thank you for your generous support and for giving all of us hope for a cure.

Kathy Reno

My name is Kathy Reno, and this is why I make Every Step Count

I climb because no one should struggle to breathe. I have asthma and I know how scary it is when it is hard to breathe. Climbing 71 flights is very hard for someone with asthma, but I have done this for three years and it is so rewarding.

I starting climbing five years ago when Geri Bresnihan, who I met in Jazzercise convinced me that I am stronger than I thought I was. She met me and we practiced stair climbing and I did 30 flights the first time and thought I could do this! It pushed me outside my comfort zone to ask for donations, but now I enjoy fundraising.

If you are thinking of climbing - you can do it! The office I work at is four stories and we practice doing interval training on the stairs twice a week. We go up four flights, down two, up two flights, down four and up four flights. That is ten flights. We start at ten flights around the first of the year and work up to 71 flights. You can do it!

The American Lung Association is the leading organization dedicated to saving lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The Lung Association provides support and education for those living with asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and fighting external threats to lung health such as tobacco, air pollution, and more. And we all need to breathe!

Linda Zielinski

My name is Robert Zielinski, and this is why I make Every Step Count

I climb every year in memory of my wife, Linda. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis took her only a week after my first climb, in 2016.

I selected this picture, taken at one of our favorite places, Saratoga Race Track, in 2014. Linda loved the excitement, beauty and class of high-end racing. Dressing for the occasion was half the reason to be there. Some people can carry off anything in a hat, and Linda was one of them. And she loved her hats!

Linda accepted her diagnosis, and the complicating non-small cell lung cancer, with her characteristic grace and strength. She knew she would not live out the life she wanted because there was nothing that could stop what was to come. She wanted very much to change that for others who would come after her, so now that is up to us who survive her.