The Fight for Air Climb and Other Extraordinary Feats by People With PF

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by Kevin Olson |

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A couple weeks ago, my good friend Bert Maidment and I completed the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb, an annual fundraising event. I had never before competed in an event like this. I’m not a runner or even a walker. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic adventure.

From left, Bert Maidment and Kevin Olson cross the finish line at the 2021 Fight for Air Climb earlier this month in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Dana Olson)

Bert’s feats

Bert has accomplished phenomenal things. Last year, he completed the Fight for Air Climb while on 4 liters of oxygen from his portable oxygen concentrator. The climb was 42 flights of stairs totaling 902 steps, and he completed the course in 1 hour, 9 minutes. Time doesn’t matter, though, as it is slow and steady that compels others to realize their potential.

Bert completed the climb to honor his two sisters and brother-in-law, who passed away from lung cancer. Additionally, a local TV station interviewed him, which brought awareness to his IPF and lung cancer.

This year, Bert challenged himself again in the Fight for Air Climb, held in a soccer stadium, where he faced 1,400 stairs.

Bert’s health has changed in the past year. He was on 8 liters of oxygen while training. While walking, he used an E-sized oxygen tank. He had planned to use his portable oxygen concentrator again. The plan was to ascend a short distance and rest until his oxygen saturation rose back above 90%. But as he trained, he realized the portable oxygen concentrator wouldn’t provide enough oxygen.

Three days before the climb, his interstitial lung disease nurses, Jamie and Janell, discussed Bert’s plan for using oxygen. Bert said his medical equipment supplier had backed out of loaning him a second concentrator. The next day, Jamie and Janell found an oxygen supply company that would donate a liquid oxygen tank with two portable canisters, which would allow him to be on 15 liters of oxygen. Bert said he wouldn’t have been able to finish without the boost in oxygen the liquid oxygen system provided.

Kevin’s achievement

Bert’s endeavors energized me to do it, too. In support of Bert, I registered for the event. This was just 10 months after I had received a lung transplant. I trained for the climb using a treadmill, walking 2 miles, and climbing my basement stairs. During recovery from surgery, I learned that I must continue to challenge myself to complete various tasks.

Two local TV stations interviewed me because I was a lung transplant recipient. It was an honor to do the interviews, and I got my five minutes of fame. One interview showed my wife, Dana, and me descending the stairs, and then me finishing the course. In the clip, you can see me wearing an SFP 50 hat, plus I used sunscreen on my arms. The sun was bearing down, even in the morning, so I couldn’t wear an SFP 50 long-sleeved shirt.

At the event, I honored my lung donor, my mom, who passed away with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and Dana’s father, who passed away with IPF.

Kevin Olson raises awareness about PF during the annual Fight for Air Climb earlier this month in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Dana Olson)

The 2021 climb was not the first time I had considered participating in this event. In 2017, I saw an article on the Fight for Air Climb and talked to Dana about registering for it. We signed up without thinking about the ramifications. At the time, I used a 7-pound portable oxygen concentrator with exertion. After thinking about possible issues that might arise, I realized I wasn’t in shape to walk up numerous stairs. I didn’t know if I could walk up four flights of stairs. So, we decided not to do the event that year.

Other people’s ventures

Other people with IPF also have undertaken remarkable feats. For example, in November 2016, Evans Wilson, then 63, walked the Seattle Marathon using E-size oxygen tanks. He completed the marathon in under 11 hours.

In March 2019, another friend, Nick Sloop, in his 70s, completed a 5K walk. Last year, he did it again. I admire his accomplishments.

Several PF Warriors have done half-marathons while on oxygen. One Warrior, a lung transplant recipient named Steve Lindsay, completed his seventh half-marathon at the age of 60.

These people provide us with the motivation to do the best that we can. As for me, a transplant recipient, my post-transplant pulmonologist won’t allow me to do any running.

All of these feats have one characteristic in common: Everyone did some type of pulmonary rehabilitation.

It was mind-blowing for me to finish the climb. I was so pumped when I ascended the final set of stairs. Everyone at the top of the stairs was cheering, which boosted the adrenaline I needed to continue. The day’s lesson was that my lungs were in great shape, and my legs needed more exercise. I will do it again next year.


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


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