Q&A: Big Climb Philly’s Duncan Glew

Meet the driving force behind this inaugural event for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

On April 23, some 1,500 people will descend on the Comcast Center for the inaugural Big Climb Philly, benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Unlike traditional fundraising runs and walks, participants will climb the 43 flights of stairs—1,092 steps in total—of the tallest building in the city. The driving force behind this unique event is Duncan Glew, a 15-year-old Haverford resident who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in November 2012. He and his family moved here from Seattle in 2014 to continue his cancer treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He’s hoping this year’s event is the first of many to come.

MLT: How did the Big Climb come to be?

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DG: It originated in Seattle 30 years ago. It’s held at the Columbia Center, the tallest building in the city. Last March, it raised more than $5 million for LLS. My brother and I, and my classmates in Seattle, have participated in fundraising for the event since my diagnosis. When my family moved to Philadelphia, I decided to try and bring the event here. We’re the first East Coast city. There are also events in Minneapolis and Dallas. 

MLT: How did you go about reaching out to Comcast?

DG: We have many connections through my school, Penn Charter. They were instrumental in making it happen. When we reached out to Comcast, they were immediately supportive. 

MLT: Why did you think a Big Climb event could be sustained in Philadelphia?

DG: Philly is a hub for cutting-edge researchers working on innovative cancer therapies. It made sense to me. This is a way for the city to celebrate the fact that so much of the world’s best science and medicine is happening right here. Since the Climb has been so successful in Seattle, there must be something so unique about the event that causes it to be enticing for people. 

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MLT: What’s your fundraising goal for the inaugural event?

DG: We want to raise at least $350,000. Penn Charter has formed a climbing team that will participate, and I’m working with other schools to get teams started to participate, as well. 

MLT: How important is it to you to raise public awareness about blood cancers?

DG: It’s so important. I’ve learned a ton since being diagnosed. Whenever I get the opportunity to speak about my experience, I jump at the chance. The more people who are aware, the more attention the research gets. 

MLT: What’s the one thing you want people to know about blood cancer?

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DG: People often think of it as a less serious type of cancer—and that’s true for some types. But there are some very rare, deadly types. The research that [the University of Pennsylvania’s] Dr. Carl June is working on—his approach to immunotherapy—can be generalized to other types of cancer. Blood cancer [could be] a starting point for curing other types of cancer. 


To learn more, visit www.bigclimbphilly.org.

Photo by Tessa Marie Images

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