Human Interest 2014

To view a participant's story, click a name from the list below. To see human interest stories from all of our annual events, visit our 2013 Archive.

2014 Events

Hustle Up the Hancock

All stories
Al Davis
Brian Gold
Fighting Illini
Kate Gerring
Megan Kunz
Sarah Ridder
Total Athleticare
Vanessa Batista

Lung Power Team

Elyse Anders
Lindsay Welbers
Lauren Calomino
Matt Treadwell and Lauren Masi

Skyline Plunge! May

All stories
Amanda Buechel
Jaime Brendle
Barbara Clark
Brent Hardesty

CowaLUNGa Bike Tour

Adam Cash
Debi Rummage
Janelle Wood

Skyline Plunge! September

Andy Hay
Anna Davis
Brittany Hopkins and Sue Tinnish

Lung Power Team

Elyse Anders  Lindsay Welbers
 Lauren Calomino
 Matt Treadwell and Lauren Masi


Mom runs to help keep children with asthma safe

Elyse and Bug 
Elyse with daughter Delaney,
after Delaney's first 5K.
Delaney's dream is to one day
run a marathon, like her mom.

In May, Elyse and Brian Anders of Arlington Heights were extra excited to celebrate their daughter Delaney's fourth birthday. Not only was it to honor her growing older, it was also a celebration of her return from the hospital.

Delaney had been admitted to the hospital just days before her birthday to treat an asthma emergency. She has struggled with asthma since she was two-and-a-half years old, and this was one of the worst asthma episodes her parents have seen. The hospital stabilized her breathing within hours, but Elyse and Brian asked if she could stay overnight.

"We've learned that even if Delaney looks stable after getting treated for asthma in the emergency department, she can have trouble breathing again very soon," Elyse said. That night, as Delaney was sleeping, her oxygen levels dropped to 85 percent and then fell fast.

"There were no signs that she was having any trouble breathing," Elyse said. "If she hadn't been monitored in the hospital, there's no way we would have known."

Delaney spent four days in the hospital. Elyse noted how her daughter seemed to think it was normal she was there, a reminder to Elyse and Brian that asthma has really become part of their family's story.

"Before my daughter was diagnosed with asthma, I thought someone could use an inhaler, feel better and go on with life," Elyse said. "But now I know it can really take over every part of a person's life."

Delaney is not the only member of the Anders family personally affected by lung disease. Her brother, "Moose," has exercise-induced asthma, and Brian suffered with asthma when he was younger. Brian was also recently diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is a combination of lung damage and mucus buildup that makes it hard to breathe. Other family members have passed away from lung cancer.

The impact lung disease has had on Elyse and her loved ones drove her to do something to help others in her shoes. This fall, she's running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with Respiratory Health Association's Lung Power Team. Lung Power Team is the fundraising leg of Respiratory Health Association's endurance sport program. The team raises awareness and funds for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and education programs.

The local not-for-profit has programs close to Elyse's heart. Respiratory Health Association's asthma education includes classes for children with asthma and their caregivers to provide the tools and knowledge they need to identify and avoid triggers, manage asthma episodes and control asthma on a long-term basis.

"I still meet people who don't know the correct ways to manage their kid's asthma or don't understand the right medicines to use," Elyse said. "I'm running [with Lung Power Team] to spread the word about how to keep kids with asthma safe."

To support Elyse in her fundraising efforts or to offer her words of encouragement, visit To learn more about Respiratory Health Association's asthma programs, visit

Woman runs for family with respiratory issues - herself included

This October, Lindsay Welbers will run in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with Respiratory Health Association's Lung Power Team. Respiratory Health Association supports people living with lung disease in Chicagoland, and Lindsay has several people she's running for - including herself.

In 2013, Lindsay was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. She noticed she was having breathing difficulties while training for her first marathon.

"When I went on long runs I would get out of breath long before my legs got tired," Lindsay said. "I went to my doctor to find out why my chest was hurting, and he said it was a classic sign of asthma."

Lindsay's breathing difficulties are now easily managed with medicine and attentiveness to her asthma triggers. However, she knows several people who struggle with lung issues that are not so easily alleviated. One such person is her mom, Beth, who was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) five years ago.

Lindsay said since her mother was a girl, she has had respiratory problems from being surrounded by animals and plants on a farm. Just because this has become the norm for Beth, Lindsay still wishes she would take steps to manage her labored breathing. COPD is a combination of lung damage and mucus buildup that makes it hard to breathe. It worsens over time and there is no cure, just ways to manage it.

"I pick at her to exercise because that can actually make her breathing easier," Lindsay said. Oftentimes, people living with COPD live sedentary lifestyles because simple day-to-day tasks take longer for them to do.

Lindsay's seen exercise help improve her cousin's health. Her cousin, Dustin, has cystic fibrosis, which causes mucus build up in organs. The mucus in the lungs can block airways and make breathing difficult and it can also cause bacteria to grow, leading to life-threatening lung infections.

"We were told that Dustin was only going to live until age 20, but he's past 30 now and healthy," Lindsay said. "He even goes to go to the gym a lot to manage his cystic fibrosis. I've learned from him and other people that once you just make yourself get out there, exercise becomes easier and often your overall health is better, too."

If Lindsay's family can hit their goals of being active, she knows she can reach her goal of running 26.2 miles. As she trains and tells people why she's running, she finds that nearly everyone knows someone affected by lung disease. Their support is great motivation to keep her running for Lung Power Team. The team raises funds and awareness for programs such as asthma management education, as well as research that improves treatments or finds cure for lung disease.

To support Lindsay in her fundraising efforts or to offer her words of encouragement, visit

Reason to run: spreading awareness for lung health

Lauren is running in memory of her grandparents.

Lauren Calomino has come a long way from where she was two years ago. Two years ago, the Chicagoland native couldn't even imagine running one mile. But in an effort to improve her health, she started competing in short races such as 5Ks and worked her way up to running long distances. This October, Lauren will take on running 26.2 miles in the Bank of American Chicago Marathon. Lauren signed up for the marathon as part of Lung Power Team, which raises funds and awareness for a cause close to her heart.

"My family has lost two loved ones to lung disease," Lauren said. "I signed up with Lung Power Team to support a mission that affects my family, and to receive training and tips for my first Chicago marathon."

Lung Power Team supports Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs. As a member of the team, Lauren receives training through Chicago Area Runners Association and support through Respiratory Health Association to help her fundraising and race goals. She also receives lots of support from her family members, who are happy she's keeping her grandparents' memory alive through the team.

Lauren's grandmother passed away from lung cancer when Lauren was young, and Lauren wishes she hadn't missed out on her grandmother's amazing qualities that her family always talks about. Lauren was a teenager when her grandfather started experiencing health issues related to his COPD, a chronic disease that causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath due to airflow blockage. He also had issues breathing due to past exposure to asbestos at job sites. Lauren remembers how hard his deteriorating lung capacity made it for him to walk around his house or even eat. Both passed away from their lung disease, and it made a lasting impression on Lauren.

"I don't want to see anyone go through the pain or suffering my family members did," Lauren said. "We take for granted how easy it is to breathe, but not everyone is lucky enough to experience that."

Lauren has committed to raise more than $1,000 for Respiratory Health Association. To support her in her fundraising or to offer words of encouragement, visit Visit to learn more about the team.

Couple runs together for family members lost to lung disease

Matt and LaurenLauren Masi signed up for her first full marathon in 2013 to run with a purpose. She joined Respiratory Health Association's Lung Power Team to compete in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and raise funds and awareness for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs. Her run was in memory of her boyfriend Matt's brother, who passed away from an asthma episode in 2005. Last year, an injury held her back from racing, so she's returning to the Chicago Marathon again this year with a bigger reason to run and a new running partner - Matt, her now fiancée.

Matt Treadwell has joined Lauren on Respiratory Health Association's Lung Power Team to run in memory of his brother, AJ Hein.

"AJ had a severe asthma episode when he was 16, and unfortunately no one was home," Lauren said. "His mom was out picking up his prescription for asthma medication, and by the time she made it back, it was too late."

Matt's family is not alone in heartbreaking situations like this, and because of that, Lauren and Matt have committed to raising $1,000 each toward Respiratory Health Association's programs, which include asthma education. Respiratory Health Association's Asthma Management and Fight Asthma Now® teach youth and their caregivers how to identify and avoid asthma triggers, how to manage asthma episodes and how to control asthma on a long-term basis.

Respiratory Health Association also offers social and educational events for people living with COPD, efforts that are also close to Lauren's heart. She is running in memory of family members who've passed away due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis.

"This October, Matt and I will be running our first marathon together," Lauren said. "We are fortunate to be running with Respiratory Health Association's Lung Power Team, and will be honoring the memories of some dear family members."

To support Lauren and Matt's fundraising efforts or offer them words of encouragement, visit their fundraising page at

Athletes can still join Respiratory Health Association in its mission. Anyone running in the Chicago Marathon may sign up to run with Lung Power Team. Runners may also register with the team for a race of their choice. For more information, visit


Skyline Plunge! Chicago September

Andy Hay
Anna Davis          
Brittany Hopkins and Sue Tinnish 


Man rappels so others can manage their asthma, too

Andy-HayIt was 1964 when Tower Lakes resident Andy Hay, originally from England, was diagnosed with asthma. As a toddler, he struggled with asthma affecting his everyday life because treatment was limited and there were many misconceptions about asthma.

"At first people said I'd grow out of it, but I didn't," Andy said, adding that the pollution in Liverpool at that time, especially from the coal fires, made his asthma even worse.

Andy had to be rushed to the hospital on several occasions just to treat his asthma. He recalled it wasn't until he was 9 years old that he finally had a rescue inhaler, medicine that can be life-saving because it treats symptoms of an asthma episode. Though Andy now knows how to manage his asthma, he still remembers the last time his asthma sent him to the hospital, in 1970 for steroid injections.

"It was a scary event, since the treatment seemed not to be widely understood, and my parents were clearly very worried about my difficulty breathing" Andy recalled.

Although Andy's difficulty managing his asthma was years ago, many people still have similar experiences, despite the advances in treatments. In 2009, asthma accounted for 1.9 million visits to the emergency room every year. Asthma affects at least 25 percent of adults, so much so that they were unable to work or carry out their daily living activities because of it. Andy doesn't want others to go through what he did, so he's taking a big step to help people in his shoes. On September 7, he'll rappel 27 stories for lung health.

Andy is participating in Respiratory Health Association's Skyline Plunge! Chicago event. Hosted at theWit Hotel, Andy is one of 40 thrill seekers who will rappel 27 stories to raise funds for lung disease research and programs.

"Not everyone is as fortunate as I was to live a normal life with asthma," Andy said. "It impacts everyone's lives in different ways, and can, at times cause other respiratory issues."

The rappel's fundraising goal is $105,000 for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease programs and research, many of which are close to Andy's heart. Respiratory Health Association holds educational programs such as Fight Asthma Now® and Asthma Management, free or low-cost asthma classes that teach children and their caregivers how to manage their asthma. It covers potentially life-saving skills, including how to properly take asthma medications and how to recognize asthma episode warning signs.

To offer Andy words of encouragement or support his fundraising, visit his personal fundraising page at To find out more about the rappel or sign up, visit

Chicago woman rappelling to celebrate her lung health victory

Anna DavisOn September 7, Anna Davis will step over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets for lung health. She will rappel theWit Hotel during Skyline Plunge! Chicago, an urban rappel adventure hosted by Respiratory Health Association to raise funds and awareness for lung disease.

"This is a rare opportunity, rappelling down a building in Chicago, and I'm also excited it's a way to support Respiratory Health Association," Anna said.

Anna is rappelling to support lung health, but she's also celebrating her own accomplishment. Anna quit smoking one year ago.

Anna started smoking socially in college. Having a cigarette was first something to do with friends, but then turned into a habit that ruled her daily activities. She wanted to quit smoking once the habit interfered with her work schedule and attending sporting events. Anna's family encouraged her to stop smoking, and she finally made up her mind to honor her grandfather's memory.

"Doctors said if my grandfather had not smoked for so many years earlier in life, he may have been healthy enough to regain strength after the surgeries that ultimately ended his life," Anna said.

Anna quit smoking cold turkey on the fifth anniversary of his passing away.

"Not smoking is still a struggle, and there are still days when something happens that makes me want a cigarette," Anna said. "But then I remember, ‘I quit. I don't do that anymore.'"

To cope with her triggers, Anna has found alternatives to smoking, which include working out with a punching bag, chewing gum and taking her Australian Cattle Dog for runs. Through her rappel, Anna hopes to raise funds for Respiratory Health Association's tobacco prevention and cessation programs. That way, other people will find resources to help them quit, or never begin smoking at all. Respiratory Health Association also advocates for smoke-free policies and campuses, ones that Anna perceives as helpful to deterring people from the habit.

"The number of smokers is decreasing and I'm noticing more college campuses are going smoke-free and not selling tobacco on campus," Anna said. "I think if all of these policies had been in place when I was 18, I may have never started smoking."

Anna has pledged to raise $1,000 for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs. To support Anna's fundraising efforts or to offer her words of encouragement, visit  

Mother-daughter team going over the edge for lung health

Sue and BrittanyOn September 7, Sue Tinnish and Brittany Hopkins will take on a mother-daughter activity unlike any other. They will step over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets and rappel theWit Hotel during Skyline Plunge! Chicago. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, the event raises funds for lung disease research and programs.

"I saw this as an amazing way to experience the iconic lightning bolt at theWit Hotel in a different way," said Sue, Dean of the School of Hospitality Management at Kendall College.

She also signed up to rappel with her daughter because the cause personally affects them. Sue and Brittany both have asthma.

Sue's asthma diagnosis came when she was in her 20s, after an allergic reaction to a cat sent her to the emergency room. Although that experience feels far away now, a more recent hospital trip still stirs up emotions for Sue. When Brittany was 5, she had her first asthma episode while she was playing with a dog at a family friend's house. The friend, a doctor, rushed Brittany and her family to the hospital for treatment. It was terrifying Sue recalled.

"It's very scary when you have a young child who can't breathe," Sue said, tearing up.

Their family's experience is not unusual. In 2009, asthma accounted for 1.9 million visits to the emergency room every year. Luckily, for Sue and Brittany, Brittany's trip was the last time either woman had to go to the hospital for asthma treatments. That was thanks in part to wonderful education they received from doctors about how to manage their asthma. The women know not everyone is so lucky. So, Sue and Brittany are rappelling for other families affected by lung disease and to support Respiratory Health Association's asthma education programs.

"I am happy to support Respiratory Health Association because it's a great way to help out other kids who aren't as fortunate as I was in knowing how to manage their asthma," Brittany said. "Asthma can be very dangerous, and I feel lucky that my parents were so vigilant in learning how to take care of me."

Sue and Brittany have committed to raising more than $3,500 for Respiratory Health Association. Their funds help support programs such as Fight Asthma Now® and Asthma Management, free or low-cost asthma classes that teach children and their caregivers how to manage their asthma. It covers what could be life-saving skills, including how to properly take asthma medications and how to recognize asthma episode warning signs.

"We're been very fortunate that with the proper medicine, our asthma is easy to control," Sue said, "but I know that's not the way it is for everyone."

The mother-daughter team is currently in a competition to see who can raise the most funds through their rappel. To support the women or offer them words of encouragement, visit their fundraising pages at or To sign up for the rappel yourself, visit

CowaLUNGa Bike Tour

 Adam CashDebi Rummage
Janelle Wood  


Couple riding in honor of mother's lung health

When Adam Cash's mother, Rhonda, had to go into surgery for a routine procedure two years ago, he wasn't nervous. But when she had a difficult time waking up from anesthesia, he began to worry. Doctors affirmed his fears when they told him further testing was needed.

Now, it seems fortunate that his mom had that simple surgery. Though completely unrelated to her lung health, it alerted doctors to the fact that she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a combination of lung damage and mucus buildup that makes it hard to breathe. More than 12 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with the disease. Although there is no cure, there are ways to manage it.

"Had my mom's lung disease gone untreated, it would have gotten worse much more rapidly," Adam said. "This way, even though we can't reverse or stop it, my mom can live better with it."

Since her diagnosis, Rhonda has taken better care of her health by managing her diet and doing low impact exercises. Despite the distance between him and his mother - Adam lives in Round Lake Heights, and his mom in Florida - Adam wants to help. He and his wife, Amy, have decided to turn their hobby of biking into something that benefits other people affected by lung disease. Adam and Amy have signed up to cycle 130 miles in Respiratory Health Association's CowaLUNGa Bike Tour. The ride raises awareness and funds for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs, some directly impacting people living with COPD.

"Lung disease is not a glamorous thing to talk about, but we want to bring more awareness to all of the lung diseases and how people can get involved," Adam said. "I also thought it'd be great to honor my mother."
On August 2, Adam and Amy will line up at the CowaLUNGa start line in Gurnee, Ill., to travel through northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, ending at the finish line is in Whitewater, Wisc. CowaLUNGa has an 18-mile, one-, two- or three-day ride options.

Adam has set his fundraising goal at $1,000. He noted that he and Amy are involved with several charities, but it was important for them to contribute to Respiratory Health Association because the charity's mission is close to their heart.

To support Adam in his fundraising or offer him words of encouragement, visit his fundraising page at

Debi challenges herself to help manage her asthma

Debi Rummage team 
Debi, front, second from right, rides CowaLUNGa
with team Speed Racer every year.

In recent years, Elmhurst resident Debi Rummage has begun to take on challenges that would have been unimaginable to her just a few years ago. August 2-4, she attempted to ride 190 miles in Respiratory Health Association's CowaLUNGa Bike Tour. The physical challenge was a true celebration of her newfound health.

Debi was diagnosed with asthma at 5, when asthma medications and management options weren't as available to families as they are now. Even until a few years ago, Debi struggled with controlling her asthma, which affected her weight.

"It was tough to be fit because my asthma made it hard to exercise, but when I was heavy, my asthma was worse," Debi said.

During her high school and college years, Debi was admitted to the hospital several times, missing multiple days of school at a time.

"Back then, the doctors kept people with asthma in the hospital for as many as 10 days, giving them steroids and clapping them on their back to loosen the congestion," Debi said. "When I was in college, I finally had access to a home nebulizer, and that's when I didn't have to go back to a hospital for an asthma treatment."

Even with her new asthma medication, Debi still wasn't as healthy as she wanted. It wasn't until Debi started riding a bike that she found one piece of her weight loss solution.

"I've lost 130 pounds during the last few years," Debi said. "More important than the weight loss, I know that being active and healthy helps keeps my lungs strong."

Wanting to push herself more, Debi joined neighborhood friends on CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, a ride through northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Bikers have the option of riding 18 miles, one, two or three days of the tour, and Debi rode the entire three days for the first time last year. This year, ironically, she struggled with her asthma for the first time in more than a decade and had to sit out the final day.

"I was extremely disappointed," Debi said, "but I did it last year and I know I will do it again!"
Debi knows there are still people who benefitted from her ride. CowaLUNGa participants raise funds and awareness for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs, some of which support people affected by asthma. Respiratory Health Association has several free or low-cost programs that educate children and their caregivers about asthma medications and management techniques.

"CowaLUNGa is a ride that allows me to raise money for a personal cause and do something fun," Debi said. "For me, it's the perfect combination, and Respiratory Health Association staff makes it all the more fun because they pour their heart and soul into it."

CowaLUNGa is also a great conversation starter for Debi, who is still proud of what she's accomplished.

"A lot of people wouldn't do a 20 mile bike ride, much less nearly 200 miles over three days," Debi said. "A lot of my friends are still kind of blown away by it."

To support Debi in her fundraising efforts or offer her words of encouragement, visit

'Team Tom' a way for Glenview family to remember a loved one

Tom LudwigJanelle Wood of Glenview remembers her dad as someone who was very active and always moving.

"He was the type of person who never liked to sit down," Janelle said. So when the Nebraska native was visiting his daughter in Illinois, seeing him in pain just while sitting down was a warning sign for the family. When Tom returned home, he visited the doctor for back pain, thinking it was related to an earlier back surgery. A scan showed spots on his lungs. In May of 2012, Tom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

The news of lung cancer was surprising for Janelle and her family. Tom had smoked for years but quit at age 60. Unfortunately, his lung health had already been compromised. After a hard-fought, eight-month battle with cancer, Tom passed away at age 73.

"Not a day goes by where I don't think of my dad," Janelle said. "I'm the type of person who likes to be in control and fix things, but there was nothing I could do to help him get better."

This summer, Janelle will ride in Respiratory Health Association's CowaLUNGa Bike Tour to honor her father and to fight back against lung disease. She's on "Team Tom" with her two young children, Bronwyn and Payne, and a friend, who will join her in CowaLUNGa's 18-mile ride option.

"I'm healthy and still able to walk, run or ride a bike to support a good cause, so I'm going to do it," said Janelle, who wants to teach this life lesson to her children.

This is Janelle's first time riding in CowaLUNGa Bike Tour yet she is the second highest individual fundraiser. Janelle is determined to not only raise funds for lung cancer, but she wants to raise awareness for lung health in general, especially the harmful effects of smoking.

"Even if people saw my fundraising email and didn't donate, they saw the message not to smoke," Janelle said. "This ride is to raise money, but it's also a reminder to people that lung disease is out there. It's asking them to please stop doing things that are destructive to their health."

CowaLUNGa Bike Tour raises funds and awareness for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease programs, many of which are close to Janelle's heart. The association has several programs that educate youth about the harmful effects of smoking or help adults who want to quit smoking. Respiratory Health Association also addresses chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, among other lung diseases.

In addition to the 18-mile ride, CowaLUNGa bikers have the option of starting in Gurnee, Ill., and riding the 1, 2 or 3-day option. The CowaLUNGa finish line is Whitewater, Wisc. For more information or to register, visit To offer words of encouragement or to support the Wood family's ride, visit

Hustle Up the Hancock

Al Davis Brian Gold
Fighting Illini
Kate Gerring
  Megan KunzSarah Ridder
Total Athleticare Vanessa Batista

Davis hustles in memory of family, for personal goals

Al Davis 
Al Davis, with girlfriend Carol.
Both climb in Hustle.

Al Davis, a recent retiree from Allstate, has been enjoying his days now free of alarm clocks, commutes and deadlines. But there's one obligation he can't ignore, and that's his training for his upcoming Hustle Up the Hancock. This is the ninth time he will participate in Hustle Up the Hancock, a charity stair climb in John Hancock Center that benefits Respiratory Health Association.

Al signed up for his first Hustle in memory of his aunt Lerlene Barber, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2005. When his aunt was initially diagnosed, Al admired how determined she was to keep a normal schedule despite her deteriorating health.

"My aunt was a successful real estate agent who always felt she could close any deal," Al said. "To her, beating cancer was just another challenge."

When Lerlene did pass away, Al was inspired to do something for his health in her honor. Since he's always looking to challenge himself physically, he signed up for Hustle Up the Hancock. During the stair climb, participants climb 94 or 52 floors to raise awareness and funds for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs. Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader since 1906.

"I saw it as a way to contribute to education and research for all forms of cancer," Al said.
His first climb, he was excited to get involved, but there was one problem. Al loved going to the gym but he never trained with cardio.

"The first time I tried climbing the stairs was a huge awakening," Al said. "I was sweating and tired by the time I hit floor 23."

Luckily, Al had given himself six months to train for Hustle. He stuck with his cardio and was in good enough shape that by the time the event rolled around, he climbed 1,632 stairs in less than 21 minutes. He now trains year-round, with the hope of one day of achieving his dream goal of 17 minutes.

"Each year I try to improve from the prior year or at least maintain, but I am just grateful to be able to climb in this [event] and do it in my aunt's memory," Al said. He's added that he's been fortunate enough to finish in the top 30% of 3,000 climbers, which he considers a true blessing now that he's in 60-69 age group.

For this year's Hustle, Al has pledged to be a Lung Health Champion and raise $1,000 for Respiratory Health Association. For more information or to donate to Al, visit

Al was a process analyst for Allstate for nearly 37 years before he retired in November 2013.

Team 'Breathin' Easy' makes it to the top for two loved ones

Breathin Easy
Brian Gold, center with his team, honor Eric
and Randy Gold with their Hustle climb.

Since 2008, the Gold family and friends have been participating in the Hustle Up the Hancock in honor of Eric Gold, who was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis at age 21 in 2003. One year after his diagnosis, Eric received a double lung transplant. With his new lungs, Eric participated in three Hustle climbs, and, in November 2007, Eric registered to be the team captain of the fourth Breathin' Easy Hustle team. His younger brother Brian recalls his dad telling him that Eric said he "would crawl to the top if I have to."

During the few years after the transplant, Eric's health began to worsen as tumors formed in his chest and his new lungs. In January 2008, just six days after his 26th birthday, Eric passed away from two types of pneumonia. His father, Randy, made sure Eric's spirit would live on by taking over as captain of the Breathin' Easy team. Randy and Brian were consistently top individual fundraisers, and Randy took the honor of the third highest individual fundraiser in 2008. Last year, the Gold family was honored with the "Making a Difference" award in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the fight against lung disease.

This year, Team Breathin' Easy has another reason to climb. It is their first Hustle without Randy. His health had been declining for several years and although he couldn't climb the past few years, he could always be found at the top waiting for the team to finish.

"This is the first year he won't be waiting for us at the top," Brian said. (Brian took over as team captain after the 2011 Hustle.)

Many friends, family, and other supporters now travel from several states to climb. To keep their memory alive, Brian is holding onto one of the top fundraising spots, just as he and his dad had both done in the past. To support Brian or offer him words of encouragement, visit

Fighting Illini Hustlers enjoy physical challenge in iconic building

Team captain Michelle Ryland
with friend and fellow Fighting
Illini Michael Murphy.

On April 13, University of Illinois School of Architecture alumni will take on a challenge that they never studied in school in an unmistakable Chicago landmark. The Fighting Illini will climb 94 floors of John Hancock Center during Hustle Up the Hancock, a charity stair climb that benefits Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs. The team captain, Michelle Ryland, was first introduced to the climb three years ago while on the job.

In fall of 2011, Michelle Ryland (class of '09) was new to Chicago and her structural engineering position at Klein and Hoffman. On one worksite, she had to walk up several flights of stairs to get to the roof. The building engineer was huffing and puffing by the time they got to the top, but Michelle was hardly fazed. Her coworker suggested she try to climb 1,632 stairs during Hustle.

"I've always had a thing for iconic buildings (I am a structural engineer after all), so I decided that I wanted to be able to say that I've climbed to the top of the Hancock," Michelle said. "I also love being able to do fun things that raise money for charity."

The next year, Michelle invited friends from school to be part of the team "Fighting Illini Hustlers." Five University of Illinois alumni (Michael Murphy, Lauren Garvey, Eric Guenther and Ben Zintak) have joined, as well as one University of Michigan graduate.

"Our U of M teammate is fine with being on an Illinois team for one day since it's for a good cause," Michelle joked. "I'm the same way. I love being part of something that people are so passionate about."

Hustle raises awareness and funds for people living with lung disease. Many participants climb in memory of a friend or loved one lost, or in honor of someone who has triumphed over a smoking addiction or a lung health disease.

Michael Murphy (class of '09) joined the Fighting Illini team because he lost his mom to lung cancer in 2008; she was just 55. Michael lives in Evergreen Park, a Chicago suburb, and commutes to the city for his architecture job at Thornton Tomasetti. At home, his mom's memory is everywhere. She spent more than 25 years in public service, including positions as Cook County Board of Review Commissioner and Illinois State Representative-36th District.

"My mom was always one to give back to the community, and I know she'd be proud that I'm helping raise funds for Respiratory Health Association," Michael said. "I love remembering her in any way I can and look forward to doing so with friends at a great event."

Hustle Up the Hancock has more than 4,000 climbers and raises $1.2 million for Respiratory Health Association. The Fighting Illini Hustlers have set a team goal to raise $2,000. To offer them words of encouragement or support, visit

Michigander celebrates her father's health with her climb

Kate GerringOn April 13, Marcellus resident Kate Gerring will climb 94 flights of stairs in Chicago's John Hancock Center during the charity stair climb Hustle Up the Hancock. Although it seems like a daunting feat, she has two important motivations to keep her going. One is her best friend Stacy, who passed away earlier this year before they got the chance to Hustle together. The other is her father, Dave Brauer, who recently received a lung transplant. Hustle Up the Hancock benefits Respiratory Health Association, a Chicago-based nonprofit that supports people affected by lung disease.

It's been nearly two years now since Dave caught walking pneumonia. What is typically a tame lung infection changed Dave's entire life. Before his pneumonia he was healthy - he worked outside for his job with the Department of National Resources and he never smoked. Once he had the sickness, he couldn't seem to get rid of it. It finally landed him in the hospital on New Year's Day 2013, and he wasn't sent home until one month later.

"The doctors were excited to release him from the hospital even though they knew he still had a long way to go before he was fully recovered," Kate said. His recovery was much more complicated than they thought. He was diagnosed with cystic lung disease, meaning the pneumonia had scarred his lungs so badly that they were functioning poorly.

Dave was put on oxygen but given permission to return to work. He appeared to be in good health for several months, until summer. The humidity affected his lung health so much that he could barely talk some days. By late September, doctors said his lung capacity was so bad that he had to be evaluated for a transplant.

Doctors determined that because of his age, overall health and deteriorating lung function, Dave should be put at the top of the list for a double lung transplant. They told Kate's family that he'd need it within a month, or else he might not make it. One of his lungs only functioned at 23 percent. Dave only had to wait five days, though Kate said those few days felt like an eternity.

"When we got the call that they'd found a match, we were nervous to hear that it was only one lung," Kate said. "But it was such a strong match that doctors were confident they could remove just one and the infection wouldn't come back and spread."

Dave received his transplant in September 2013, and for a month Kate and other family members sat by his side to help him regain his health. Now that it's been seven months and he is better, the whole family will take a trip to Chicago to cheer on Kate as she climbs 1,632 stairs in his honor.

"This was a climb my friend Stacy introduced me to, and even though she's no longer with us, I wanted to fulfill what we'd always talked about doing," Kate said. "I'm happy to do it for my dad, and he's excited I'm doing it, too. One of his respiratory therapists in Grand Rapids underwent a double lung transplant in Chicago, so me doing something lung health related in the same area as her surgery makes it extra special for him."

Kate is a Lung Health Champion and will raise $1,000 to benefit Respiratory Health Association. For more information or to support Kate in her climb, visit

Palatine mom climbs for her son's health

Megan Kunz 
Megan Kunz and Cate climb together
 Jack Kunz
Jack Kunz with his younger brother, Charlie

Palatine mom Megan Kunz knows how scary it can be to rush a child to the hospital. Four years ago, Megan and her husband, John, made several worried trips to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital hoping to treat their 3-year-old son Jack as he gasped for air. It was terrifying to see him so sick, and it was still scary when doctors told them it was caused by asthma.

"The first year he was diagnosed, Jack was hospitalized at least five times. We had a lot to learn as parents with a child newly diagnosed with asthma," Megan said. "Jack would get really bad colds and struggle to breathe. He even turned blue a few times because he couldn't catch his breath. We just felt helpless."

Megan and John educated themselves as best they could with help from pediatricians and allergists. Now 7 years old, Jack has learned to recognize his triggers and warning signs of an asthma episode, and can tell someone if he needs his inhaler. There are still times when he needs to take breaks from playing to catch his breath, but his asthma is considerably better now than when he was a toddler. Still, Megan's family hasn't forgotten the helplessness they felt when he was first diagnosed.

"Jack definitely remembers his time in the hospital, and sometimes gets anxious when he remembers how it felt to not be able to breathe," Megan said. "It's not something we ever want to go through again."

To help ensure other families also don't have to experience it, Megan has made a commitment to improving lung health in Chicago. She and her stepmom, Cate, will climb for the second time in Respiratory Health Association's Hustle Up the Hancock event. Held at John Hancock Center on April 13, Hustle Up the Hancock raises funds and awareness for Respiratory Health Association's local lung disease research and programs.

Respiratory Health Association addresses all lung diseases, and has several educational programs that are close to Megan's heart. Asthma Management, Fight Asthma Now® and Asthma-Friendly Childcare are all free or low-cost programs that teach children and their caregivers how to better understand and manage asthma. Often, these classes are held in areas where asthma rates are higher than the national average.

"Since going through what I did with Jack's health, I've educated myself and become more aware of all of the people out there who also struggle with asthma," Megan said. "I think people sometimes forget that asthma can be a life-threatening disease and I Hustle for anyone who is affected by it. My stepmom and I choose to Hustle to raise money to help other families who feel helpless like we did."

Megan has committed to being a Lung Health Champion for Hustle and has a fundraising goal of $2,500. To help her reach her goal or to learn more about Respiratory Health Association, visit

One Hustler does it for eight family members, and more

Sarah Ridder 
Sarah says she tries to keep high spirits despite
the fact eight family members have been
diagnosed with IPF.

In the 1970's, Sarah Ridder's father was diagnosed with emphysema, a chronic disease that gradually destroys the air sacs in the lungs. For 13 years, his health declined and Sarah tried to learn more about emphysema. She worried her father had been misdiagnosed, even have he passed away in 1983. Nine years later, her intuition proved correct. After struggling with constant shortness of breath, Sarah visited her doctors and was also diagnosed with emphysema. She pressed the doctors to reexamine her.

"The first words out of the doctors' mouths were ‘You're a smoker and you did it to yourself,'" said Sarah, a Crete resident. "I told them to do more tests."

It wasn't until a terrible skiing accident in 2003 that she got her answer. An ER doctor looked at her chest X-ray and told her husband, Kevin, to find a pulmonologist immediately. Further testing revealed that Sarah had interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic disease that leads to the hardening and blackening of the lungs. Although the exact cause of the disease is usually unknown, genetics can sometimes be a factor. In Sarah's case, this sadly rings true.

In the last nine years, eight members of Sarah's family have been diagnosed with IPF, a disease for which there is no cure. Of the diagnosed, five - including Sarah's father - have passed away from it. When such tragedy hits a family, Sarah said the only way to cope is to laugh.

"My brother John and I try to make light of everything, especially for my mom's sake," Sarah said.

Sarah and her brother, John, are the two members of their family who feel lucky enough to have a second chance at life. In 2006, just two-and-a-half months apart, they each received new sets of lungs. The lung transplants were desperately needed; before the surgery John had 48 percent lung capacity and Sarah only 34 percent.

Sarah and John received their transplants at Loyola Medical Center, and Sarah cannot speak highly enough of the staff there. After their surgeries, the hospital continued to make their health and happiness a priority. Through her contacts at Loyola, Sarah learned about a new way to celebrate her new health and support others who are not as fortunate. On April 13, Sarah will participate in Hustle Up the Hancock.

Hustle Up the Hancock is a charity stair climb where 4,000 participants climb 94 or 52 floors of John Hancock Center to raise funds for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs. Sarah will climb in the 17th annual Hustle Up the Hancock with Loyola's Lung Angels, a team of physicians, nurses, patients and family members connected to Loyola and touched by lung disease.

"I'm really excited to participate in Hustle because Respiratory Health Association is so committed to all lung diseases," Sarah said. "They not only raise awareness for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, but also lung cancer, respiratory syncytial (RSV) and other lung diseases."

In addition to taking on the challenge of climbing 94 floors, Sarah has also signed up to be a Lung Health Champion and will fundraise $1,000.

"Now that I have a second chance at life, I do everything all or nothing," Sarah said. "I chose to climb the full climb - 1,632 stairs - because every step I take will be for someone I know who has been affected by lung disease. I get to keep fighting now not only for my family, but for everyone else, too."

To learn more about Respiratory Health Association or to support Sarah, visit

Total Athleticare gathers staff, patients to climb for lung health

Total Athleticare climb teamOne chiropractic office in Schaumburg goes far beyond caring for just spinal health. The staff at Total Athleticare is focused on total health, including improving the quality of life for people living with lung disease.

On April 13, a team of 25 Total Athleticare staff, patients and family will climb in the 17th annual Hustle Up the Hancock. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, the charity stair climb at John Hancock Center raises funds and awareness for lung disease research and programs. The Total Athleticare team will take part in the Full Climb, each member ascending 94 floors for various personal goals.

Dr. Frederick Schuster first participated in the full climb nine years ago at the insistence of a patient. Since then, he's used the climb to motivate staff and patients to give back to the community and improve their health.

"In part because of Hustle, our office culture has changed regarding health," Dr. Schuster said. "Instead of doughnuts, we bring in oranges. People have started to lose weight so they can climb faster and hit their Hustle goal times."

As more people have become interested in hustling, Fred has set up a system to help them get a spot in the highly anticipated event (this year's Hustle sold out in one hour and eight minutes). Office administrators ready themselves at 8 a.m. to quickly reserve spots for the diverse team, which has climbers who range in age from 16 to 75.

Gary Berenger, 75, of Hoffman Estates, is returning to Hustle with Total Athleticare after five years. He had to take a break from climbing to heal an injury, but is back and will be joined by his son and grandson. For Gary, the climb helps him keep up his fitness regime as well as help people living with lung disease, something he can relate to personally.

"I had two younger brothers who were diagnosed with asthma at young ages, and I was diagnosed with it when I was in my forties," Gary said. "I had to take medication on a regular basis and went for 10 years without even leaving the house without my medications. As I learned how to better control my asthma, I realized exercise really does help."

Dr. Schuster said Gary is one of several climbers whose stories inspire him. Everyone on the team is working toward a personal goal as well as the team's goal of raising more than $3,000. The event will raise more than $1.2 million for local lung disease research and programs such as asthma education, smoking cessation and events for people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

To learn more about Hustle Up the Hancock or to support the Total Athleticare team, visit

Vanessa climbs to helps others quit smoking, never start

Vanessa Batista is relatively new to Chicago and since her move from Hawaii, she's been searching for ways to keep up her athletic training during the city's harsh winter. Vanessa found the perfect challenge with a 94-floor stair climb in John Hancock Center. On April 13, Respiratory Health Association's Hustle Up the Hancock will help her reach her physical goals as well as support loved ones who want to kick their smoking habit.

Hustle Up the Hancock raises funds and awareness for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs. The local nonprofit supports people with lung diseases such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. It also has programs that help people quit smoking or discourage youth from ever starting the habit in the first place. Both are reason enough for Vanessa to challenge herself to climb 1,632 stairs.

"Sometimes teenagers make the bad decision to start smoking," Vanessa said. "But years down the road, they might try to quit smoking and it's a lot harder than they ever thought. I wish kids would realize the implications of picking up a cigarette to look cool or to fit in."

Vanessa has seen firsthand just how hard it can be for an adult to quit smoking. Vanessa's husband, parents and in-laws all smoked at one time. She recently celebrated with her mother-in-law when she finally quick smoking after 29 years. Vanessa is also proud of a coworker who's been one-year smoke-free after 30 years. But, once a person quits, it doesn't mean there won't be temptations.

"My coworker mentioned to me that despite being smoke-free for one year, he still can't have a cup of coffee without wanting a cigarette," Vanessa said.

Respiratory Health Association's certified tobacco treatment for adults, Courage to Quit®, offers people resources to avoid such triggers. The organization also offers tips on how to talk to kids about tobacco and how landlords can create smoke-free housing.

More than 4,000 people will climb in Hustle Up The Hancock with a total fundraising goal of $1.2 million. The funds raised from Hustle support Respiratory Health Association's tobacco-free living programs and other lung health initiatives. Vanessa has a personal fundraising goal of $2,000. To support Vanessa's fundraising goals or offer words of encouragement, visit

May Skyline Plunge! Chicago

Amanda Buechel
 Jaime Brendle
Barbara Clark
 Brent Hardesty

Nursing student rappelling for loved one affected by lung disease

Amanda Buechel
Amanda with her grandma

Why would someone who's deathly afraid of heights rappel 27 stories down the side of a Chicago hotel? Amanda Buechel will tell you because it's for a good cause.

Amanda, of Joliet, is participating in Skyline Plunge! Chicago on May 4. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, Skyline Plunge! Chicago is the city's only urban rappel adventure. More than 80 people will rappel down theWit Hotel to raise awareness and funds for local lung disease research and programs. They're also doing it for the thrill of a lifetime.

Thrilling heights aren't typically what Amanda seeks, but she signed up for Skyline Plunge! Chicago in honor of her paternal grandmother, Andrea. Andrea has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a lung disease commonly associated with emphysema or chronic bronchitis or a combination of both.

"My grandmother is already so proud of me for facing my fears in her name," Amanda said. "She's always described her young self as a ‘spitfire,' and now I guess I'm following in her footsteps."

Amanda said her grandmother has struggled with COPD for as long as she can remember, but she's seen it get worse in recent years. Andrea has taken her grandchildren on special birthday outings since they were kids. Last year on Amanda's 21st birthday, Andrea took her to Las Vegas. Spending several days together made it evident just how much COPD affects Andrea's day-to-day life.

"We could hardly walk around the Vegas strip because it was so hard for her to catch her breath," Amanda said.

Amanda is rappelling for her grandmother, but also to help put a stop to others experiencing what her family did. As a student at Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing, Amanda knows how important it is to educate the public about preventable diseases, something that's at the core of Respiratory Health Association's mission. And as Amanda shares the news of her rappel, she's reminded of how important it is to continue to work toward that goal.

"I've gotten donations from people I hardly know because they tell me they've been affected by lung cancer, asthma, COPD or another lung disease," Amanda said. "I want to support an association that brings these topics to light because I'm very passionate about preventing chronic diseases."

Amanda has pledged to raise $1,000 to benefit Respiratory Health Association. To support her fundraising goal or learn more, visit

Barbara Clark, 72, takes the brave step for family friends

Barbara Clark after her rappel,
holding a picture of the Forbes

Barbara Ellen Clark, 72, said her family was a bit surprised to hear that she signed up to rappel 278 feet down a Chicago hotel on May 4. It sounded like a crazy idea to them, but the Arlington Heights woman knew Skyline Plunge! Chicago was the perfect way to support lung health and honor her good friends living with lung disease.

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, Skyline Plunge! Chicago is the city's only urban rappel adventure. Twice a year, it attracts more than 70 thrill seekers who rappel 27 stories down theWit Hotel to raise funds and awareness for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs.

Barbara is rappelling for family and friends who have been affected by lung disease, specifically sisters Makenzie and Ally Forbes who suffer from cystic fibrosis. Barbara worked with their mother Jennifer for 10 years in Kansas, and was aware of the challenges the Forbes family faced because of the girls' lung disease. Cystic fibrosis causes mucus to become thick and sticky, and it builds up and blocks some of the organs in the body. In the lungs, the mucus can make breathing difficult, and it can lead to serious lung infections.

"I watched over the years as Jennifer and Mike dealt with one treatment after another for the girls and one emergency after another," Barbara said. "In spite of exhausting challenges day after day, this loving family took it on and thrived."

The challenges that cystic fibrosis brings can take an emotional toll on everyone affected. In spite of this - and because of it - the Forbes family live as normal a life as possible. During high school, the sisters excelled in classes and took part in extracurricular activities. They never let their health condition get them down, despite often having to miss days of school for treatments, Barbara noted.

The Forbes family and friends rejoice that the girls' futures - once daunting - are now full of hope and promise. Makenzie received a double lung transplant at 22 in April 2013. Even though there have been challenges since, she is coping well as her new lungs slowly increase in capacity. To keep her focus and spirit up, Makenzie continues her education online. Her sister Ally is 19 and attending college in a nearby city.

Barbara said that Mike and Jennifer Forbes continue to be the upbeat and positive support for their daughters that they've been for their whole lives.

"I admire them each, and as a family, so much," Barbara said. "Makenzie is the bravest young woman I know. I want to honor her and her entire wonderful family, so my dedication in making the plunge will be ‘In honor of Makenzie Forbes and the Forbes family.'"

Barbara made a fundraising commitment to raise $1,000 to help Respiratory Health Association promote lung health. To offer her words of encouragement or support, visit

Aurora woman rappels in memory of her mother

Jaime and her mom
Jaime after her rappel

Jaime Brendle knows firsthand just how hard it can be to quit a smoking habit. Although never a smoker herself, Jaime of Aurora grew up in a household where it was not uncommon as a child to run down to the store to pick up a pack of cigarettes for her mother. As Jaime grew older, she saw the hold cigarettes had on her loved ones.

Jaime's stepfather smoked for years until he was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia. He quit, but his wife Barbara, Jaime's mother, could not.
"I begged my mom for years to quit smoking," Jaime said. "She tried many times but I don't think she was aware of all of the outlets at her disposal to help her."

Even the warnings on cigarette packs - Jaime specifically remembers illustrations of black lungs - were not enough to help Barbara kick her habit. Smoking, as Jaime witnessed, is a true addiction, and one that is incredibly difficult to overcome despite health warnings.

"My mom smoked until the day she was admitted into the hospital," Jaime said. "Every day, we (her family) and her doctors told her had she had to quit."

Jaime's mother was admitted into the hospital for pneumonia a week before Christmas and her health deteriorated quickly. She suffered from many smoking-related complications, such as aneurysms, ulcers and strokes. After visiting her mom in the hospital in St. Louis, Jaime returned home after Christmas. She was quickly called back on January 3 and told to rush down to St. Louis. Barbara passed away January 4 at age 66.

On May 4, Jaime took a brave step over the edge in her mother's memory. She participated in Skyline Plunge! Chicago, a 27-story rappel down theWit Hotel that supports Respiratory Health Association. The rappel raises funds for lung disease research and programs, which include ones close to Jaime's heart. Respiratory Health Association hosts free or low-cost tobacco cessation classes for adults and tobacco prevention classes for youth.

More than 70 people participated in the rappel and are expected to raise $100,000 to support lung health. Each person committed to a $1,000 fundraising minimum, something that made Jaime nervous at first.

"I thought there was no way I could raise $1,000, but soon enough people started giving whatever they could to the cause," Jaime said. "I am so excited to do this event and it's nice that I have the support of my family and friends."

To support Jaime or offer words of encouragement, visit her fundraising page at

Google employee to go over the edge with coworkers

Brent Hardesty 
Brent smiles after his rappel.

Brent Hardesty is one Google employee who's taking "work outing" to a whole new level - 27 floors high, to be exact.

Brent is rappelling down the side of theWit Hotel with eight other Google employees as part of Respiratory Health Association's Skyline Plunge! Chicago event on May 4. The 278-feet rappel offers thrill-seekers breathtaking views and it also raises awareness and funds for lung disease research and programs. Both were reason enough for Brent to sign up.

"When I first heard about Skyline Plunge!, I thought it sounded awesome," Brent said. "When I heard what it was for, I had to do it because of my personal connection to lung disease."

Brent's mom has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a combination of lung damage and mucus buildup that makes it hard to breathe. COPD can include chronic bronchitis, emphysema and sometimes asthma. It worsens over time and there is no cure, just ways to manage it.

"My mom has to be on oxygen 24-hours a day to be able to breathe easy," Brent said. "She used to be such an active person, but now she has to be within arm's reach of an oxygen machine. It's hard to watch it limit her ability to do physical activities."

Brent said his mom was a lifelong smoker and he always feared it'd cause her some sort of health issues. But, he didn't know they would eventually impede on her ability to complete day-to-day tasks.

"Seeing her struggle with COPD really hits home the importance of events like Plunge," Brent said. "Raising money for Respiratory Health Association will help other people with lung diseases and support programs that keep kids from smoking."

More than 80 people will rappel in Skyline Plunge! Chicago with a fundraising goal of $80,000. Funds raised from the event supports local outings for people living with lung diseases such as an annual educational COPD conference and a social cruise on Lake Michigan for people with COPD. Brent has a personal fundraising commitment of $1,000. To support Brent, or offer a message of encouragement, visit

See more Human Interest stories from 2013, 2012 and 2011.