BUFFALO, N.Y. An annual tradition in Buffalo has special meaning to a doctor who lost his wife one year ago to lung disease.

The annual "Fight for Air Climb" by the American Lung Association is this Saturday at Main Place Tower, and local oncologist Dr. Robert Zielinski will climb in memory of his wife.

Linda Zielinski encouraged him to join the Buffalo Medical Group “Lung Force” team when she was in hospice care last year.

“She felt like she wanted to do something to try to forward the progress against this, so she latched on, early on, to the American Lung Association, and when this came up, she encouraged us. She said, people will do this with you,” Dr. Zielinski recalls.

And they did, in large numbers. Dr. Zielinski, his grandchildren, and the Buffalo Medical Group raised the most money of any team for last year's Fight for Air Climb, and they are on track to raise the most again this year.

Linda had both lung cancer and pulmonary fibrosis, a rare, chronic lung disease, that causes progressive scarring and makes breathing difficult. Dr. Zielinski said she never complained.

"There was no sense of the unfairness of it all, it was, ‘these things happen every day to people, and I’m a people,’” he said of his wife’s attitude. "She adopted the line from the old Monty Python movie, ‘I'm not quite dead yet.’”

From then on, Dr. Zielinksi and his wife traveled while they could, and surrounded themselves with family and grandchildren when they couldn't, always aware that the clock was ticking.

It is perhaps a cruel irony that Dr. Zielinski is an oncologist, someone who treats patients with cancer.

But Linda was a woman of faith who volunteered with churches. Her faith, instilled in him, made the final years more bearable.

"I couldn't get through a week without some sense of there's more here, and there's a bigger purpose and this is not an end,” said Dr. Zielinski.

Linda died exactly one week after Buffalo’s 2016 Fight for Air Climb. Dr. Zielinski thinks it’s this year that will be even harder.

"I don't know that it hit yet [last year], and now, coming up on a year…these two things are always going to be forever linked in my mind and in everybody who knew her,” he said.

Dr. Zielinski said for anyone who knows somebody fighting a lung disease, this is a worthwhile cause to support. After all, he learned firsthand that the “fight for air” is all too real for those who suffer.

"This event is appropriately named because when you get about 2/3 of the way up those stairs, you are fighting for air. It was not the legs that gave out last year, it was I could not take a breath,” he said. “And I thought to myself, those last 10 flights or so, if this is what she feels like all the time, God love her.”


  • The annual Fight for Air Climb takes place this Saturday starting at 8:30 a.m. at Main Place Tower in downtown Buffalo. You can register as a day-of participant starting at 7:30 a.m.
  • There is a $50 registration fee and a $100 fundraising requirement