Stepping up: One Chicago employee’s inspirational mission in the fight to help prevent lung disease

Cheryl Peterson knows all too well the devastating effects lung disease can have on a person. Her family has suffered through serious lung and health issues, which fuels her commitment to help find a cure.

Cheryl, who serves as director of network management at UnitedHealthcare, is a leading advocate and participant in the Fight For Air Climb, a nationwide stair-climbing event designed to raise funds for the American Lung Association.

“Before my first climb, my sister was diagnosed with lung cancer, my dad was fighting COPD, lung cancer and emphysema, and my brother died from a heart attack,” she said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Through the Fight For Air Climb, Cheryl found an avenue to memorialize her sister and father, who both eventually succumbed to lung cancer. Today, she is a leading — and inspirational — example for promoting lung health.

“Watching my family members struggle to breathe was very difficult,” she said. “I climb for my sister and my dad and anyone who has similar struggles. My goal is to help the lung association find new treatments and a cure for lung cancer.”

As co-chair of Chicago’s Fight For Air Climb planning committee, Cheryl leads the efforts to provide fundraising tips, recruit new members and facilitate monthly meetings with the goal of raising participation. She also is captain of the UnitedHealthcare climb team and volunteers for training climbs to help participants prepare for the event, which is slated for March 8. Thousands of Illinois residents and people from across the country will climb the stairs of one, two, three or all four Presidential Towers buildings (a total of 180 floors, 2,340 steps) in downtown Chicago.

“This is one of the largest events in the country dedicated to raising money to fight lung disease,” Cheryl said. “Thousands of people of all ages participate. Some may be fighting lung disease themselves, such as asthma, and others may know a family member that’s suffering from lung disease. It’s so inspiring to see people come together for this great cause and we welcome any and all participants to help us reach our fundraising goals this year.”

Last year, more than 30 UnitedHealthcare employees participated in the Fight For Air Climb. UnitedHealthcare employees have raised more than $200,000 over the last six events. The climb increases awareness for lung disease, raises money for life-saving research and funds critical local programming, including educational programs to help local children better manage their asthma and free programs to help residents quit smoking.

Additionally, the United Health Foundation provided a $2 million grant in 2015 to help support the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest “Partners for Asthma Action” project to improve the quality of life, school achievement and life prospects of more than 180,000 low-income children living with asthma in Chicago and four other Midwest cities (Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Louis).

More than 1.5 million people suffer from lung disease in Illinois, and this year alone, it is estimated that 9,000 will be diagnosed with lung cancer.  

More information and registration for the Fight For Air Climb at Presidential Towers is available at

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