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Helen Haller teacher eyes 'Big Climb'

Laps around the track and belly dancing.

That's Tami Wall's recipe for making it up all 1,300-plus steps of the Columbia Center building in Seattle later this month.

Her recipe for surviving leukemia? Positive thinking.

"It's a gift you have, to take care of your body," Wall says, keeping a brisk pace around the Sequim High School track.

She would know. Diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in October 2008, Wall made up her mind to be a beacon for hope and health to her friends and family, changing her diet and making sure she was healthy enough to do The Big Climb, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Washington/Alaska Chapter's biggest fundraiser of the year.

Last year, with the help of her children Corey, Casey and Cole, Wall made it up all 69 flights and more than 1,000 steps to the top, raising more than $2,700.



Life lesson for students

But surely it's hard to stay positive when one's own blood fights against one's body, the medicine hurts and the diet trades sticky-sweet processed food for a plant-based diet.

Wall, however, has dozens of reasons beyond her own health and for her own children's sake.

Those reasons are on the track, too, straggling a half-lap behind her or racing around with fervor. Wall teaches third grade at Helen Haller Elementary School. She uses her physical Big Climb preparations as part of her students' curriculum and as a sort of life lesson.

"I don't mention (the disease) a lot," Wall says. "I explained it to them pretty simply, that it just so happens I have too many white blood cells and that some of my cells are messed up."

That hardly stopped Wall last year from being a part of a Big Climb fundraiser that collected $1.3 million for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The group aims at bumping that total to $1.4 million this year.



Running and riding

Now she has a goal to race to the top with her children and three school co-worker friends - Billy and Melissa Reamer, and Matt Duchow.

Wall's brother-in-law Rod Smith works for Seattle's Team in Training, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's fundraising-through-athletics program, and acts as the team captain.

In recent years, top athletes have made it to the top in less than eight minutes while average participants finish in 25-40 minutes. Billy Reamer, the top 'Wall Climber' in 2009, made it up the 69 flights in nine minutes, 29 seconds.

Reamer says he hopes to trim 15-30 seconds off that this year and place in the top 10.



Touching posters

"This is a personal challenge and it's a great cause," Reamer says.

Wall says she got inspiration last year from posters hung on the wall, some of people who survived leukemia and those who didn't.

"I just sort of touched those posters," Wall says. "It helped me keep going."

Those wishing to donate to the effort and/or to Wall's team can do so online at www.bigclimb.org.

All proceeds go toward LLS's mission to find a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families.



Big Climb, by the numbers

2 - stairwells in Columbia Center building

6 - water stops along the way

7 - inches up per step

43 - inches width in the stairwell

69 - flights to the top

1,311 - steps to the top of the Columbia Center

6,000 - participants in the event (maximum)



The Big Climb

What: Race/walk up 69 flights of Columbia Center in Seattle

Why: Fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Washington/Alaska Chapter

When: 8:30 a.m. start on Sunday, March 21

Tami Wall's team: Wall Climbers for a Cure (Tami, Casey, Cole and Corey Wall, Billy and Melissa Reamer, Matt Duchow, team captain Rod Smith)

How you can donate: Go to the Big Climb Web site at www.bigclimb.org and search for "Wall Climbers for a Cure"



Leukemia often is referred to as cancer of the blood. It is characterized by the widespread uncontrolled proliferation of large numbers of abnormal blood cells, usually white blood cells, which take over the bone marrow and quickly spread to the blood stream. Other organs that may be affected include lymph nodes, spleen, liver and central nervous system. Leukemia has many types and subtypes, affecting both children and adults.









Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.



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