After retiring, Wes Loucks received a call for help from home when his two grandchildren were born with cystic fibrosis. That's when Wes started the Portland Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge.
As a firefighter, Wes Loucks received countless emergency phone calls throughout his 32 years of service for the Portland Fire and Rescue Bureau. After retiring, he received a personal call for help from his own family. His two grandsons were both born with cystic fibrosis (CF), a chronic genetic condition that affects the lungs and digestive system. Now that he was retired, Loucks had the chance to jump into a new life-saving action by organizing the first Portland Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge.
The Portland Firefighter Stairclimb is a competitive race up 40 floors and 800 steps of the U.S. Bancorp Tower in full “Combat Gear”. The climbers test their will and endurance for individual titles in both men and women categories. Additionally, they compete to raise funds that will go toward CF research. “When I’m going up I kinda think about the struggles that the people we’re climbing for go through. And so, I kinda make that a personal challenge for myself to stretch it as far as a physically can. Little bit of suffering for me goes a long way” said Greg Greene, a firefighter with the East Olympia Fire District.
Since 2009, thousands of firefighters from across the nation and around the globe have come to Portland to compete in the race. Together, they work toward supporting the CF Foundation in their mission of providing all individuals with the disease new opportunities to lead more productive and fulfilling lives through:
- Funding life-saving research and drug development
- Promoting individualized treatment
- Ensuring access to the highest quality specialized care
On September 23rd 2018, the 10th annual Portland Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge took place, bringing the total amount of funds raised throughout the years to $1.2 million dollars.
Climbing to support a cause
The CF Climb is a similar challenging event where participants climb to the tops of buildings and stadiums across the country, aiming to raise both awareness and funds for CF. The CF Climb Spotlight Series features individuals who are an inspiration and who bring new hope to their local CF community, much like Erik Hudzik. Each year, Erik Hudzik participates in the CF Climb in support of his wife, Mary, who was diagnosed with CF at birth.
For their 10th wedding anniversary, Eric and Mary went on vacation to Hawaii. Having been used to having to reschedule vacations due to her everchanging health, Mary was looking forward to taking the trip with her husband. For months, the couple had been looking forward to a volcano summit hike, which promised a breathtaking view at the top. However, when the day came, Mary told her husband to go on ahead because she could not go any further. It was not until Erik reached the top and looked down at the magnificent view that he realized – “this is the view that Mary will never get to see.”
This is the moment that stays with Erik as he trains for the CF Climb each year. He became involved in 2010 and has not looked back since. “I liked the fact that CF Climb was unique and something a little different than your average fundraising 5k race. The event is short, but it’s a big physical challenge. You’d be really surprised by what you can say you accomplished from both a physical and fundraising standpoint at the end of the climb” he said.
Erik also explains how training for the event is a great opportunity to raise social media awareness and to boost important fundraising efforts. He often posts pictures and videos of his training routine to give others an insight into the event and to remind them to bolster fundraising goals. He also states that CF Climb has allowed him to move pass his reluctances about asking for donations. “This is our story. I’ve learned to share and be real with people when asking for their support” he said.
Erik urges those considering participating in the CF Climb not to hesitate. “The training is tough, but I just think about what people with CF, like Mary have to endure – the least I can do is train for a couple of months to hopefully find a cure for this disease” he said.
Reaching new heights in the search for a cure
At present, around 30,000 children and adults in the United States are affected by CF, and 70,000 in total worldwide.
- Around 1,000 new cases of CF are diagnosed each year
- Over 70% of patients are diagnosed by age 2
- Over 45% of the CF patient population is age 18 or older
It was only in the 1950’s that children with CF survived long enough to go to elementary school. However, with today’s rapid advancements in research and treatments, the lives of children and adults with CF have been improved and extended. Many individuals with CF have life expectancies into their 30s, 40s, and beyond.
Although progress toward a cure has been made; the lives of those living with CF are still cut far too short. Since the year 1955, the CF Foundation has been the driving force behind the search for a cure. And it is the stories, like Erik’s, that provide an insight into the determination and passion of the climbers – whether firefighters, family members, friends, or other supporters – who continuously strive to help make a difference.
This year, the 31st Annual CF Climb will take place at Talen Energy Stadium, home of the Philadelphia Union, on October 20th. Participants will have the opportunity to tackle over 1,600 stairs – either for fun or for competition in the Timed Climb category. The minimum pledge requirement is $100 and it is due on or before the day of the event. So far, well over $23,000 dollars have been raised, with a climb goal of $65,000 dollars.
Each individual who wishes to participate can make a powerful impact, helping in “Adding Tomorrows” for individuals with CF and making CF stand for “CURE FOUND.”