February 19 • 05:47 AM

Climbing for air

Area firefighters to participate in annual 'Air Climb' fundraiser

February 08, 2017
TRI-CITY AREA — Firefighters from Almont, Dryden, and Imlay City will be among the participants in the American Lung Association's 2017 "Fight for Air Climb Detroit" on Sunday, Feb. 26.

The goal of the 11th annual Air Climb fundraiser is to bring greater attention to the causes, treatments and human cost associated with lung disease.

The local teams' individual and collective challenges will be to scale to the top of Detroit's 71-story Renaissance Center in the fastest possible time.

To accomplish the feat, participants must climb 140 flights of stairs (1,035 stairs) while attired in full gear, totaling about 70 pounds including air packs.

Almont first-timers

2017 marks the first year the Almont Twp. Fire Dept. has fielded a team to compete in Air Climb.

Firefighter Sal Dimaio said the three-man team, including Steven VanValkenberg and Noah Lackowski, got together on short notice, but they're looking forward to the challenge and opportunity to assist the American Lung Association.

"This is our first year and we're excited about it," said Dimaio. "We'd heard about it before, but this year (Chief) Don Smith gave us some pamphlets and we got motivated to do it."

Though Dimaio, VanValkenberg and Lackowski have not been training as a team, they have been preparing for the event individually.

Though raising funds and awareness for the American Lung Association is reason enough to join the "Climb," Dimaio said he has some added incentive for his participation.

"My dad had lung cancer and he's now cancer-free," said Dimaio, who quit smoking two years ago. "That will be my motivation to keep going. Supporting lung cancer awareness, research and prevention is a great cause."

Dryden team is tested

The Dryden team, which has competed at Fight for Air Climb the past five years, consists of Asst. Chief Keith Klobucar as team captain, Jeff Evans, Whitney Evans, Jim Napolitano and Darrell Schultz. Amber Schultz will participate in the First Responders' Climb.

Klobucar has excelled during previous competitions, reaching the top of the Renaissance Center in 13 minutes, 55 seconds in 2015.

While training is critical, Klobucar said there are a few tricks to cutting one's time to reach the top.

"It's all about keeping a certain pace and not stopping," he said. "In 2015, I wasn't even stopping for water breaks. You have to keep moving to get a fast time."

Klobucar noted that his time last year (2016) was more than a minute slower, which he attributed to "age creeping up" on him.

Age aside, Klobucar said he is less interested in the competitive nthan in supporting the American Lung Association.

"I'm always going to try to do my best," Klobucar said, "but I'm not doing it to compete. I'm doing it to support the cause. I admire anyone that can complete the course.

"A lot of people come into this with high hopes and big expectations," he said. "But it's not easy. And it's a lot tougher than many might imagine."

He admits there are sometimes friendly competitions among the various participating departments, though they are all united behind a single cause.

"We're all working together," said . "It's all about the cause. And it's all good."

Imlay City back again

The Imlay City Fire Department's contingent will again include Asst. Chief Andy Kustowski, who will be joined by veteran firefighter Louis Kepler, and newcomer Eric Schwalbe.

Schwalbe has reportedly been in training for an upcoming Ironman competition; which could give him some advantage in his first-ever Fight for Air Climb.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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