Breath of fresh air: Westfield resident participates in American Lung Association fundraiser in memory of late friend


By Chris Bavender

Twenty-five years ago, Michael McCulloch and Jason Morse met at the University of Evansville. They were roommates their freshman year, competed on the men’s swimming team and joined the same fraternity.

“We saw way too much of each other that year, but I think it’s that time that made us great friends,” said McCulluch, a Westfield resident. “After college, we both moved to Indianapolis to start our first jobs.” 

But three years ago, Morse died after battling lung cancer. Now, McCulloch honors his best friend by participating in the annual American Lung Association Fight for Air Climb fundraiser. He is also vice chair of the Indianapolis Climb Committee.

“He was a husband and father of two children, a former college swimmer and nonsmoker,” McCulloch said. “I think it’s important for people to realize that anyone can get lung cancer and how important lung health is to every person.”

At the outset of not feeling well, Morse initially saw a doctor for what he though was a chest cold. Doctors first told him he had pneumonia. When he didn’t get better, more tests revealed he had lung cancer.

CIW COVER 0215 fight for air climb3
From left, Kent Davis, Kelly McCulloch, Rick Falcione, Mike McCulloch and Izzy McCulloch after a past Fight for Air Climb. (Photo courtesy of Michael McCulloch)

“They only gave him about six months to live, but he fought the cancer for almost three years with strength and determination,” McCulloch said. “The doctors in Indianapolis got him into several medical trials at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. He flew there around 10 times to meet with doctors and get treatment.  The doctors in Houston eventually decided to remove his lung. He worked hard to get fully recovered, but eventually the cancer came back in other parts of his body, and it took his life.”

This is the third year McCulloch will participate in the climb. His wife, Kelly, and daughters, Izzy and Laney, will climb with him.

My training mostly consists of walking the dogs and swimming. I probably won’t be climbing a lot of stairs before the event,” McCulloch said. “I’m hoping the fear of my daughters beating me will motivate me to have a strong climb. They are both very active in running and swimming, so my wife and I really have to pick up our game to keep up. 

“I just feel lucky that we are all healthy and can do this together to support the ALA.”

The event was originally scheduled for Feb. 12 at Lucas Oil Stadium but has been rescheduled for May 8 at LOS because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants can climb either the lower bowl, which is 2,000 steps; the upper bowl, which is 2,500 steps; or both bowls.

Tanya Husain, American Lung Association in Indiana executive director of development, said with more than 1 million Hoosiers facing lung disease, the Fight for Air Climb is often very personal for participants.

“Michael’s story certainly stands out because of their close friendship,” Husain said. “Another story that stands out is a climb participant on the Anthem team named Sara Schluge. Sara climbs in honor of her mother who died of lung disease several years ago. Since this event is now on Mother’s Day, Sara shared that it is even more meaningful to her because she gets to climb in honor of her mother on Mother’s Day.”

Husain said the Fight for Air Climb is important for several reasons, including increasing awareness for lung disease; funding life-saving lung cancer research; and supporting the ALA’s COVID-19 Action Initiative, a $25 million investment to address COVID-19 and protect against future respiratory virus pandemics.

“Supporting healthy lungs and clean air is important for everyone. We have a saying at the American Lung Association, ‘When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters,’” Husain said. “In 2021, there were 3,520 people estimated to die from lung cancer in Indiana. One in 18 Hoosiers will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime.”

CIW COVER 0215 fight for air climb5
Michael McCulloch, left, pauses with his best friend, Jason Morse. (Photo courtesy of Michael McCulloch)

Fundraising for ALA

Helping the ALA create a world free of lung disease is what keeps Westfield resident Michael McCulloch climbing during the organization’s annual Fight for Air Climb fundraiser.

“There is nothing scarier for anyone than not being able to breathe,” he said. “From asthma to COVID to lung cancer to Clean Air Initiatives to helping people quit smoking, the ALA does so much just to help people breathe freely and safely.”

The goal for the Fight for Air Climb is to raise more than $270,000. In 2021, McCulloch’s team raised more than $4,700. This year, he wants to raise more than $5,000.

“The ALA has a great story to tell and is a great cause,” he said. “My friend was also a great guy that had a lot of friends. So, many of them have gotten involved in the climb or have made donation in his honor.”

For more, visit