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RiverDogs kick off their 2013 HOPE Week

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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Charleston RiverDogs players, local firefighters and members of the Lowcountry community ushered in the club's 2013 HOPE Week Initiative by supporting the American Lung Association (ALA) at the North Charleston Coliseum on Tuesday.

Pitcher Zach Arneson, outfielder Aaron Gates and catcher Wes Wilson participated in a trial run of the ALA's "Fight for Air Climb," scaling all 1,566 stairs of the coliseum's lower seating bowl. Along with other climbers, the three were there in hopes of raising awareness of, participation in and fund-raising efforts for the actual climb, on July 20.

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Held nationwide, the climb serves as a major fund-raiser for the ALA, the leading organization working to save lives by improving health and preventing lung disease. Melanie Baker-Matthews, the ALA's development and program coordinator, said that the fund-raising target for the Charleston-area event, now in its fourth year, is $41,000.

"We're well on the way to reaching the goal," said Baker-Matthews of the efforts, which have raised almost $24,000 to date. "Everyone's out there working hard, promoting it and getting the word out. We're hoping between 150 and 200 people will be out here on July 20, climbing these stairs and getting in a good workout. Having RiverDogs players here is great, because it's fun to see these guys running all these stairs so diligently to spread the awareness."

Teaming with the ALA was a natural fit for the RiverDogs and title sponsor Lucey Mortgage, which served in the same capacity for the team's inaugural HOPE Week last season. Lorcan Lucey, the owner of Lucey Mortgage, is a double-lung-transplant survivor, so the mission of ALA hits close to home, said Lauren Allio, the RiverDogs' director of community relations.

Arneson and his teammates, for their part, were happy to join in.

"It's HOPE Week, and we wanted to get involved, so we signed up and chose this event," Arneson said. "It's great to be out, and it's pretty cool to see all the firefighters doing it, especially with all the gear. They've got so much weight they're carrying, and it's definitely not easy, so we're just coming out here to support them and enjoy it."

One participant in the trial run was veteran firefighter Bo Bowers, Battalion Chief of the Awendaw Fire Department, who was fatigued after his trek around the coliseum.

"I'm not wearing boots on July 20, though," Bowers joked. "It just kills your legs."

Wilson experienced first-hand the added burden of the firefighting gear, donning it around the lower bowl on a second trip around the arena, much to the delight of his teammates.

The RiverDogs present also handed out HOPE Week pins and tickets to Tuesday night's game to participants, and they particularly seemed to enjoy conversing with Bowers, fellow Awendaw firefighter Laura Kelley and Gerald Mishoe, head of the Lowcountry Firefighter Support Team.

In addition to the Awendaw District, departments in Charleston, North Charleston, Old Fort, Parker and Lexington are expected to represented on July 20. All are in friendly competition for the John E. Winn Sr. "Lung Legacy" Memorial Trophy, a white battalion chief helmet awarded in memory of the former Charleston firefighter who lost his battle with mesothelioma in May.

To cap off Tuesday's events, the RiverDogs welcomed ALA volunteers and members of the Lowcountry Firefighter Support Team to the game against the Greenville Drive, with Mishoe throwing out the first pitch.

Kevin O'Rourke is a contributor to

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