Still Taking Steps to Support Lung Health

fitness icons
(Getty images)

Like many events that historically involve congregation, the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb takes a different form this year.

Fight for Air Climb logo
(American Lung Association)

The pandemic forced the cancellation of many of the 2020 stair climbs, including Hartford’s, which was scheduled for April 18. But organizers came up with an alternative.

Instead of the climbing 688 steps up 34 floors to the top of the Hartford 21 building, participants will track and log their physical activity throughout the month of June. UConn Health is one of the sponsors.

“The fundraising continues, but the event is virtual,” says Diahann Wilcox, a pulmonary medicine nurse practitioner who’s leading this year’s UConn Health Fight for Air team. “People aren’t necessarily climbing stairs per se, but they are continuing to make steps in support of the mission of the American Lung Association. Whether it’s walking or hiking or running, it’s their activity level that they’re tracking themselves.”

couple walking dog on sidewalk
Diahann Wilcox (right), pulmonology nurse practitioner at UConn Health, and husband J.D. Wilcox walk their dog, Lacy, in their neighborhood. They’re part of UConn Health’s Fight for Air team, logging their steps and other physical activities to support the American Lung Association’s annual stair climbing event, which was canceled this year and replaced with a virtual event that runs through June 30. Learn more and register. (Photo provided by Diahann Wilcox)

COVID-19 not only interfered with the fundraising plans this year, it also triggered a new cause. The American Lung Association created the COVID-19 Action Initiative, a $25 million commitment to fund respiratory research, education, advocacy, and development of vaccines, tests, and therapies to defend against future respiratory virus pandemics. Proceeds from this year’s Fight for Air Climb will support both this new initiative and the association’s overall mission of clean air, tobacco control, and early detection of lung cancer.

Participants use a free app called Strava to track their activity in support of the American Lung Association, which also is making virtual climb tools available. Registration for the Hartford Fight for Air Climb is still open to both individuals and teams.

“It’s just one way that I feel I can contribute to my community, not just one patient or one group of patients, but the community as a whole,” Wilcox says. “I want to expand the reach of UConn. I’m really proud to represent UConn and I would love people to join the cause and our team.”

Her UConn Health team so far includes her husband, J.D. Wilcox, pulmonary medicine colleagues Kimberly Gervais and Kris Collin, and Collin’s family. Additional members are welcome.

Wilcox, who joined UConn Health in 1996 in oncology and moved to pulmonary medicine in 2006, is a certified American Lung Association smoking cessation instructor and runs smoking cessation programs in the Hartford area. It’s part of what drives her involvement in Fight for Air.

“It’s the patient population I take care of,” she says. “And certainly, tobacco-related disease is not just isolated to the lung. It causes problems throughout the body. So I guess it’s mostly because of my desire to want to help people be healthy and kick their addiction to tobacco and to nicotine, the single best thing they could do for their health.”

Learn more about the Hartford Fight for Air Climb, including how to participate or donate. The virtual event continues through June 30.