Over The Edge For A Great Cause

Starting my 31-story rappel down the Sheraton Waikiki for Special Olympics Hawaii | Leah Friel photo

Starting my 31-story rappel down the Sheraton Waikiki for Special Olympics Hawaii | Leah Friel photo

I’m a pretty adventurous person – I’ve gone para-sailing, jetpacking, flew in a wind tunnel, went drifting at a race track and even operated the camera for the old KHNL Chopper8 helicopter before it had doors.

Well, believe it or not, I am slightly afraid of heights. But I think it’s that little bit of fear that makes these things thrilling and exciting. You know, that sudden empty feeling in your stomach when the roller coaster drops from its highest peak.

Earlier this month, I was given the opportunity to go “Over the Edge” and rappel 31 stories down the Sheraton Waikiki in support of Special Olympics Hawaii. Without hesitation, I signed up. But as the day neared, I found myself feeling extremely nervous, and started to question my participation.

I shared with my 6-year-old son what I would be doing, that like Spiderman with his web, I would be descending 315 feet from a building with the use of a rope. He immediately asked, “Why would you do that?”

I told him about Special Olympics and how it helps empower people with intellectual disabilities through its work in sports, health education and community building. That like the Olympic Games on TV, Special Olympics provides sporting competitions for its athletes to train for. And how sometimes in life, you’re faced with challenges, but you should never give up and always try your best.

My son’s response, “OK, Mommy, you can do it, but can I pray for you?”

So the day came, and I remember feeling a little nauseous as I read the tip sheet on what to expect. Staff from Over the Edge showed us how to operate the descender, and we got to practice from a shorter distance just a couple of floors above the ground.

Taking that first step off the roof is definitely the hardest part. But once you let go and feel your body is secure in your harness, the rest is actually quite easy, even from the 31st floor. At the beginning of the rappel, your feet are up against a wall of an overhang from the Sheraton’s roof. But then the wall ends, and it’s a free rappel down by yourself with a rare bird’seye view of Diamond Head, Waikiki and the deep blue ocean far below.

The experience is really like none other, and the feeling once you get to the bottom is of pure joy, survival and victory.

In fact, I’ve already convinced my boss Ron Nagasawa to signup next year, with my co-workers teaming up to raise the approximate $1,000 donation needed to secure a spot and toss our boss in next November’s Special Olympics Hawaii Over the Edge. (Yes, you can probably expect a “What’s Next” column from Ron.)

Special Olympics Hawaii started its annual Over the Edge event in 2009 as a way to raise much-needed funds. “We were facing a deficit of about $200,000 that year,” recalls development manager Kyle Karioka. “The economy had just tanked, and our corporate sponsors’ giving went down.”

In search of fundraising opportunities, they discovered Over the Edge.

“We raised $180,000 that year, just enough to cover our deficit, and we were able to hold our Holiday Classic as scheduled,” notes Karioka. “Special Olympics is all about challenging athletes to go beyond something they think they are capable of, and Over the Edge is a way for regular folks to overcome their fears and challenge themselves to do something they might never have thought they would be able to do in the same way that our athletes may challenge themselves. It’s a great fit and we actually have a lot of people who do it because they have a fear of heights, to challenge themselves and get over that.”

Special Olympics Hawaii has the exclusive right with Over the Edge on Oahu. Only about 100 slots are available each year. For those interested in participating next year, email kylek@specialolympicshaw aii.org or visit specialolympicshawaii.org.