Legs weak, muscles burning, chests heaving and lungs gasping for air, climbers scaled the stairwell of Columbias tallest building Saturday in the fifth annual Fight For Air Climb.
They fought for their breath all the way to the top of Columbias Capitol Center, at the corner of Gervais and Assembly streets, in honor of those who have fought for their lives battling lung diseases.
Nearly 200 people participating in the vertical race raised more than $40,000 for the American Lung Association. Finishers topped out on the buildings 25th floor, and after they could stand, got to enjoy the view.
The climb was personal for most of the participants, including the family and friends of 46-year-old Jeri Boysia. The Columbia mother of two sons was diagnosed with lung cancer about two months ago. Almost 90 people joined Team Jeri for the climb, raising nearly $7,600.
For Boysia, the climb was a chance to raise awareness of lung disease and money for research to support clinical trials like the one she is in now.
"It kind of struck home for us, she said. Its helping me tremendously. Ive been on the drug for just three weeks, and I can tell how much better I feel. Its amazing."
For Erina Flowers, who joined Team Jeri with her family, the climb was a moment to show support for an inspirational friend.
"She is an amazing, strong woman. Unbelievably strong," Flowers said. "She has such a supportive family, a strong family. And were here for her."
George Burnham uses his lung disease as motivation to participate in vertical races.
The 71-year-old traveled from Phoenix for the stair challenge, which was his 96th climb his 17th just this year.
Burnham has asthma, which he developed after an allergic reaction to aspirin, he said.
But the asthma and his age did not get in the way.
Immediately after reaching the top in just under nine minutes, he took the elevator back down to climb the steps again.
Im usually a little bit slower than most people, he said.
But he still made it to the top three times.
The top finisher in 2013 was back this year and even faster.
Forty-year-old Mike Guidotti, of Columbia, has been competing in stair races around the country for about 10 years. He finished Saturdays climb in two minutes and 18 seconds 22 seconds faster than his closest competitor, Lucas Dantzler of Goose Creek.
He raced in honor of his mother, who died of lung cancer 14 years ago. But he also raced for the pure physical challenge.
The 479 steps in the Capitol Center made for a relatively short climb, said Guidotti, who has raced in buildings such as Chicagos Willis Tower and the Empire State Building in New York City. Smiling and glistening with sweat, Guidotti appeared only slightly winded just minutes after completing the race.
"My legs are a little tired. When I came up, I could hardly stand," he said.
Having defeated the challenge, he rested on the top floor of the Capitol Center with Dantzler, 36, who competed in honor of his aunt, who died of lung cancer a few months ago.
"I feel very tired. Very winded," Dantzler said. "But all thats worth it for a good cause."
In their own competition, firefighters from around South Carolina donned their full gear during the challenge, wearing about 35 pounds of equipment, they estimated.
In the stairwells, the firefighters sounded like Darth Vader breathing as they inhaled through masks the oxygen in the tanks on their backs.
The masks restrict how much air they can breath in, so it dries out their throats, said Jamie Frasier, a 33-year-old firefighter.
Frasier said that while she climbed, she had one thing on her mind.
Dont let these guys pass me, she said as she recovered at the top of the stairs.
Another firefighter readily pointed out the best part of the climb: the end.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307. Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.