Thomas Vaughan, 68, of Chicago, received high-fives as he finished the Hustle Up the Hancock climbing event on February 26, 2012. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Some 4,000 people hustle up Hancock’s 94 floors

SHARE Some 4,000 people hustle up Hancock’s 94 floors
SHARE Some 4,000 people hustle up Hancock’s 94 floors

Ann Bender, whose dad died of lung cancer last October at age 71, emerged with a big smile and a jump after her first 94-floor Hustle Up the Hancock stair climb Sunday to raise money to fight lung disease.

“I feel great,” said the 49-year-old legal assistant at Chilton Yambert & Porter law firm in Geneva, after her feat at the John Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan Ave.

Bender was among 4,000 people – the same number as last year – who climbed the Hancock’s stairway to help the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago fight lung disease in the 15th annual Hustle Up the Hancock. By Sunday afternoon, they had raised $1.03 million toward a $1.1 million goal, which is about $100,000 more than last year’s. The event has raised $9 million since its start in 1998.

Bender wore a photo of her father, the late Vincent Ottaviano. The GTE factory foreman and a heavy cigarette smoker died Oct. 27, 2011 – one year after being diagnosed.

A history of smoking, along with radon and secondhand smoke, are the leading causes of lung cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lung disease is the leading cancer killer of men and women in America; it causes more deaths each year than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined, according to the Respiratory Health Association.

Bender and her co-climber and long-time friend Julie Kratochvil, 50, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Geneva Middle School, each raised $1,000. Bender finished in 21 minutes, 17 seconds, while Kratochvil climbed in 21 minutes, 34 seconds.

Each climber emerged under an arch of silver and gold mylar balloons as event organizers called out his or her name, handed each a medal and offered a banana, bottled water and a high-five in congratulations. The climbers were sweaty but triumphant in enduring the trial.

Tinley Park firefighter Adam Culbertson helped mark the occasion by displaying his hand-crafted firefighters’ helmet with the names of the 343 firefighters who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.

“I lost track of the hours it took to make,” said Culbertson, 34, a nine-year fire department veteran who will ship the helmet to the New York City Fire Department to commemorate the tragedy’s 10th anniversary.

A family’s trial with lung cancer can be especially devastating because the cancer is fast-acting in many cases, said Dr. Thomas A. Hensing, an oncologist and co-director of the Thoracic Oncology program at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, who was making his fourth climb up the Hancock.

People who have a history of smoking or a family history of lung disease who get early screening are more likely to be cured or get effective treatment, said Hensing, 43, of Glenview, who put together a team of 25 climbers.

Yet some lung-cancer victims never smoke but suffer from ailments such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as the stair-climbers demonstrated.

Carrie Levitz, 51, of Long Grove, raised three children with asthma, and said they coped by taking medication as well as learning to relax through meditation.

Levitz, whose husband, Alan, also has asthma, said the toughest part of the climb was at the start when she felt her throat get dry.

Her second Hancock Hustle climb was part of a team effort by Arthur Clesen Inc., which supplies chemicals, fertilizers and grass seed to landscapers, arborists and golf courses.

Fred Selin, 66, a land surveyor from West Allis, Wis., was walking his first full 94 flights even though he has the most advanced stage of non-small cell lung cancer.

“I feel so lucky,” said Selin, who never smoked and who said he was always healthy until he got a cough that was the first signal of his illness. He was diagnosed in June 2009, went through chemotherapy and now goes to the doctor every three weeks for a checkup and to get medication. After his veins could no longer take the many needle sticks his treatment required, he had a “port” – a small medical appliance – installed underneath his skin near his neck through which drugs can be injected and blood samples drawn.

Selin advised others to “stay positive,” as he has done.

“I feel very blessed,” he said.

Last year, he climbed half way up the Hancock, but decided to go all the way this year accompanied by daughters Claire, Cindy, Carrie and Chris and grandson Hunter, 11.

“I’m not trying to set any records,” Selin said.

One record was set Sunday when Kristen Frey, 28, of Schaumburg, hustled up the stairs in 10 minutes, 57 seconds, beating a three-year-old women’s record of 11 minutes, 16 seconds. The average time to climb the 94 floors takes 26 minutes.

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