trip over the edge of the Crowne Plaza for Special Olympics
New York raises funds and spirits
call comes into our office and an e-mail goes out. “Anyone
want to jump off a building?”
The presumed response to this inquiry is probably “Ha ha.
No,” but for one reason or another—let’s go with sense of
adventure over the other obvious alternative—I said sure.
The offer was from Special Olympics New York, who had eschewed
the tired 5K run for a more extreme fundraising opportunity:
Raise a grand for SONY and earn yourself the opportunity to
rappel 18 stories off Albany’s Crowne Plaza hotel. A stunt
sure to get the media’s attention. But SONY went beyond a
photo-op pitch, offering us press types a chance to actually
make the leap.
The “exclusive once-in-a-lifetime” event was organized through
Over the Edge, a Canadian special-events company that offers
a single remarkable service. Launched in the U.S. in 2008,
the Over the Edge team travels the country running rappelling
fundraisers for local charities.
So, on Aug. 20, I broke from my normal Friday routine of paperwork
and press releases, dragged my daughter (too young to really
care) and my folks downtown for the spectacle, signed in and
waited over coffee while the baby ogled the flamboyant hotel
carpet and noshed on sweet-potato puffs.
My name was called and I was led to the gear room by a warmly
chatty volunteer, where climbing gear was splayed, incongruously,
over a similarly ornate gold-and-burgundy carpet. A team of
volunteers strapped me in, checked and double-checked the
carabineers, and my charming guide led me upstairs, this time
clanking absurdly, harnessed and helmeted, through the elegant
halls to the roof of the towering hotel.
My timeslot companions exhibited exquisitely polar reactions
to the sudden reality of the challenge. One, a waitress, was
nearly paralyzed by fear, squeaking, “I was wrong. I don’t
want to do this,” white-knuckled at the edge. The other, a
young EMT, who had raised the bulk of his more than $1,000
donations through a boot drive at his firehouse (and invited
everyone he knew so he wouldn’t “wuss out at the last minute”),
leapt and whooped in adrenaline-fueled exhilaration. “I am
The SONY volunteers and Over the Edge crew, expert climbers
all, their experience ranging from work on oil rigs to cave
rescue teams, played multifaceted roll of counselor, coach,
and rope technician, talking participants calmly through their
fears, focus and equipment. I was, admittedly, distracted
by the spectacular view of Albany the roof afforded, and the
barely recognizable specks of family and colleagues who had
gathered on State Street to watch this peculiar adventure.
When it was time for me to hitch up and tip off the edge,
my quiet was mistaken for nerves. But, while far from fearless—I
panic at bumper cars and dodgeball and pantry moths—I find
an odd serenity in heights and small spaces. The rim of the
roof, 18 stories above the city, was a calm panorama to me,
and stepping from the edge was effortless. Back on the ground
a small crowd snapped pictures, applauded me and high-fived.
Friends and family e-mailed and texted kudos, buzzed about
the feat for a week. It was fun, sure. But it didn’t feel
deserved. Heights isn’t on my list of fears, so this wasn’t
on my list of accomplishments.
For those who worked for months to raise money, their win
was clear. The event raised $67,500 to support the athletes
and programs of Special Olympics New York.
And for those who got woozy at the edge, whose stomachs flipped
and hearts fluttered, for those who clung to the lip of the
world for dear life, trembling and muttering “I can’t do it,”
and finally, in a burst of bravery tipped back into the void
and, grinned, either in triumph or trepidation? Well, that’s
what the Special Olympics is all about—rejecting “I can’t”
and proving you can. About unfaltering encouragement and inspiring
successes and the hard-won victories that are infinitely more
significant than easy wins. Victories that blossom from willpower,
perseverance and spirit.
When I got home, “I Survived Over the Edge” T-shirt in hand,
I was, well, a little disappointed. I didn’t feel like I’d
survived anything. But once I started dicing up dinner, surviving
my ordinary life quickly became a different story. Husband
still at work, something gross (we’ll leave it at that) we’d
been instructed to “keep an eye on,” ruptured on the dog.
I called for an emergency vet appointment and was told they
could squeak me in if I could be there in half an hour. Thus
began the race to pack away foodstuffs, corral one frenzied
pup to her home-alone territory in the back of the house,
the bloodied dog to the front, strap on his collar and leash,
grab the baby and her satchel of infant-accoutrements, get
the whole mess of us into the car and drive to the vet’s office
before they closed up.
It did not go well. There was dripping and staining and madcap
chaos. The baby (who mistakenly thinks she can stand on her
own) faceplanted onto the hardwood floor and came up shrieking
with a bruise blooming across the bridge of her button nose.
And, near tears, woozy and stomach-flipping, I heard myself
mutter, “I can’t.”
There were no crowds in that moment, no cameras, no coaches.
But there I was, overwhelmed and intimidated and ready to
pack it in. But I didn’t. It was such a modest feat, compared
to the impressive show of zipping down 18 stories unphased.
There would be no “I soothed my crying daughter and made it
to the vet,” shirt. But it was my hurdle, and at the end of
the day it was the victory I was proud of.
For me, stepping from the edge wasn’t a challenge. It was,
however, a call to cheer just as loud for life’s more subtle
achievements, to lend people the same encouragement and support
during their everyday trials. And to remember that real pride
and satisfaction comes from being brave enough to overcome
your unique fears and individual obstacles. Not from breezing
through someone else’s.
Of course, the extreme moments and easy wins do manage to
infuse the ego with a shot of strength. When I finally reached
my breaking point, wrangling a bleeding dog and a bruised,
wailing baby into the backseat, I caught my breath and laughed
at myself. If I could rappel off the Crowne Plaza, I could