05/02/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

'Hustle Up The Hancock' Brings Supporters, Survivors Together In Fight Against Lung Disease

Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit

It only takes 39 seconds to reach the top of the John Hancock Building by way of the elevator, but for many of the thousands of Chicagoans who participated in the 13th annual "Hustle Up the Hancock" this weekend, it took something much more difficult to measure than time: it took grit, determination and unfaltering hope. Over half of the 4,100 people who conquered the Hustle's ninety-four-floor climb were themselves affected by lung diseases such as asthma, lung cancer and COPD. Many of the others were there to honor a loved one who had died from lung disease or its complications. Ranging in ages from 7 to 73, they all held one common cause--to raise awareness and money in the on-going battle to fight lung disease.

Sponsored by the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the annual event has raised over $7 million since its inception in 1998. So far this year the participants have raised almost $938,000, with donations still being accepted until March 19. Over 200 participating fundraising teams trekked up the 1,632 steps to the top, sporting inspirational t-shirts, ribbons, photo buttons and smiles of relief when they climbed over the last step to receive their medal of achievement. Most of these teams were formed in response to personal loss and motivated by a will to fight back.

When Dale Tarantur of Glenview lost both his wife, Robin, and his father to lung cancer, he decided to form Team Rockin' Robin, a group of more than fifty friends who this year raised the highest team total, over $33,000.

"This is the sixth year I've done the full climb and I do this in memory of my mother," said Erica Tarantur, Robin's daughter. "It's a way to honor her and it's a way for all our close family and friends to support each other. We also want to support lung cancer research, which is severely underfunded."

Chicagoan Steve Ferkau, a double-lung transplant recipient, lived with cystic fibrosis until he was 49. In 2000, with his lung capacity down to ten percent, he received the life-changing miracle of a lung transplant. His team, Kari's Klimbers, was formed to honor Kari Westberg, the 17-year-old girl whose gift of organ donation saved his life.

"Organizations like the Respiratory Health Association and CF Foundation help me, and so many people like me, live longer better lives," Ferkau said. "Kari and her family are my heroes. Kari saved my life when I needed her most, but so many of these people, and people like those on my team, helped carry me to her door. They are my heroes too."

Since he started making the grueling annual climb, he and his team have raised over $210,000.

Ferkau described what the annual climb means to him. "I went into this to tell people about Kari, but people have been very moved by my story and they open up their wallets along with their hearts. Raising this much has also made my platform for telling people about Kari, and about organ donation, that much higher."

Higher perhaps than the ninety-four floors that he has devotedly scaled for years to tell the world about Westberg and her gift of life.
f you would like to make a donation to the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, click here.