BENNINGTON — Over 100 people climbed the steps of the Bennington Battle Monument on Saturday, raising thousands of dollars towards lung disease research and advocacy.
Participants in the seventh annual Fight for Air Climb raised a total of $22,849.45 for the New England Chapter of the American Lung Association.
Some participants return every year, said Kristen Brassard, event manager with the American Lung Association of the Northeast. She said one person who took part in a previous climb in Bennington was spotted wearing the event t-shirt at a similar climb at the Eifel Tower in Paris.
The total number of participants, 111, represented a mix of community members, serious runners, and teams of businesses, educational institutions, fire departments and Bennington Rescue Squad.
"We wanted to be a part of something in the community," said Simeon Chapin, one of six members of the climbing team of the Vermont State Employees Credit Union (VSECU).
Like other climbers, Chapin commented on the unique iron steps.
"The climb was great. The last part, you feel it in your quads for sure," he said.
The annual event at the state's tallest man-made structure raises funds for lung diseases like asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and lung cancer.
Runners left the base of the 306-foot tall monument in one-minute intervals to climb the monuments' 412 steps. Some sprinted, others jogged. Some took their time and even snapped photos as they meandered up the steps not normally open to the public. Once at the observation deck, they were greeted by cheering friends, fellow runners and volunteers who were quick to offer them a bottle of water.
Members of several fire departments completed the climb in their turnout gear as part of the Firefighter Challenge.
It was the third time Justin Kinney, assistant chief for the Bennington Fire Department, completed the climb. He was joined by seven other members including his brother Nathan, a captain in the department.
Kinney climbed in full turnout gear and was breathing through his air mask for most of the way, he said. The steel boots, turnout coat, and airpack add at least 40 pounds of extra weight.
"I like the challenge. It's something different," Kinney said.
Allison Loebs, a firefighter from Malletts Bay who completed the challenge, said she also climbs for her father, who suffered from COPD.
"Once you're done, you do kind of feel like someone who suffers from asthma or COPD," Loebs said. "You have that feeling on your chest — but it's nowhere near what they deal with every day."
Stephen Bourassa, a firefighter from Latham, N.Y., said it's the first time he's completed the local event, but has participated in others. He said he was happy to have completed the challenge, but was looking forward to get out of his turnout gear.
"At the scene of a fire it keeps heat out, but it keeps body heat in," he said.
Fire departments from Shaftsbury, Warren, Lyndonville, and New York state's Halfmoon-Waterford Fire District also participated in the challenge.
The local climb is one of 63 events around the country annually, according to the organization's website. Last year, the events collectively raised $8 million that went to research, patient education and advocacy efforts.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979