Going "Over the Edge": Drawing strength from Special Olympics athletes andtaking the 15-story plunge
One of the harder things I’ve had to do lately was to stand on a ledge, lean backward and let a system of ropes and pulleys catch my body weight when I stepped "Over the Edge" of a 15-story building.
In support of Special Olympics Texas, I joined 50 other rappellers in a physical and mental journey that began atop the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental Hotel and ended in the arms of spectators below. Surprising even myself, I froze when standing on that ledge. I’ve participated in my fair share of adventure activities, but I found the sheer drop down the side of a concrete building to be a lot more frightening than descending a naturally eroded cliff.
The view from the top of the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental Hotel offers a sweeping panorama of downtown Austin—from U.T.'s Texas Memorial Stadium to Lady Bird Lake and every sky-scraping building in between. It’s the kind of view so rarely afforded that it gave me pause. From where I stood, I quickly thought about the changes, challenges and triumphs I'd encountered since my time as a student at U.T. The landscape surrounding me, plus the challenge awaiting me, offered interesting perspective.
Then I remembered what I was told downstairs by Kelly Coffey, the VP of Communications for Special Olympics Texas, “[Rappelling] is kind of a parallel. When you think of people overcoming their fear of heights, it really puts it in perspective the obstacles our athletes overcome every day." With an extra dose of encouragement she added, "If our athletes can do that, people can rappel down the building for them."
(And, okay, I’d be lying if I didn’t mention the one maintenance worker who happened to be the first in my line of sight when I gasped "I don't think I can do this," and unexpectedly and kindly mouthed back to me, "Yes, you can.")
So I found my inspiration in two internationally recognized Special Olympic athletes who cheered me on from below—Katherine Richards and Ashley Billiard—and in the realization that, no matter your situation, life could always be a lot harder. This was the easy stuff. Once I found the right perspective, this was cake.
[Rappelling]. . .really puts in perspective the obstacles our athletes overcome every day. If our athletes can do that, people can rappel down the building for them.
Special Olympics Texas (SOTX) is a non-profit organization that provides year-round sports training, competition and a variety of health programs for over 40,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. On Tuesday, a remarkable group of supportive and accomplished people gathered for the second stop in a three-leg Special Olympic fundraising tour across Texas.
In its second year, the "Over the Edge" fundraising program seeks to tap into a new market of SOTX supporters—young, professional thrill-seekers. The program offers up the rare opportunity to—legally—rappel down high-rises in downtown Dallas, Austin and Houston.
"[Over the Edge] allows us to bring in a whole new audience, different from the galas and golf tournaments that you generally have,” explains Coffey. “I think that’s what’s neat. We are bringing in people—adrenaline junkies—who have never interacted with Special Olympics before. So in addition to this opportunity [to rappel], they can meet our athletes." says Coffey.
Rappellers, who each raised a minimum of $1,000 in support of SOTX, took to the building two at a time from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. after each were trained by Austin SWAT team volunteers—a Texas law enforcement agency, it’s worth noting, that raised over one million dollars for SOTX this year.
After approximately $150,000 was raised by rappellers at the Dallas “Over the Edge” event on October 28th, the goal for Austin was set at $75,000. The results will not be released until December 8th. Truth be told, Austin is in danger of losing this event to San Antonio if SOTX does not see an increase in citizen involvement—an utter disappointment for such an active, young city population. In our progressive community, public awareness is at its most critical point.
"There are so many things that people don’t realize," says Coffey. "A lot of people think Special Olympics is a 'one thing a year' organization. We are a year-round movement. There are more than 300 competitions every single year."
With activities happening nearly every day of the year, there are endless possibilities to donate your time to Special Olympics—whether coaching, handing out water or simply cheering on the athletes, it's easy to become an active volunteer. You needn’t be related to or even know anyone with an intellectual disability; you just need to find the time to support and learn from these stellar athletes. (Just this summer, 47 Texan athletes were sent to Greece to compete in Special Olympic games at an international level.)
"A lot of people think ‘I don’t know anyone with intellectuall disabilities, I don’t know how to interact with them.' But once they get to know our athletes they see their abilities and not their disabilities, they see how similar they are and not how different they are."
SOTX is waiting for your involvement; placing yourself on the precipice of a challenge might be the adjustment needed to widen your perspective, stretch yourself and "Meet in the Middle." And when in fear, borrow from the Special Olympic Athlete Oath, "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
The Houston "Over the Edge" event takes place this Saturday, the 12th.