Reporter takes a big leap of faith for story
I love my job. Yes, there are times when I wish I didn’t have to attend town council meetings, and other tasks that go along with the job, but I get to do some really cool stuff — and even get paid for it!
I’ve been able to hang out with Gov. Jack Markell for a day, walk on the Indian River Inlet Bridge with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper while it was still under construction, spend time with Delaware National Guardsmen in a Blackhawk helicopter … the list goes on and on. But last week I had what I think was the most fun yet — I was able to rappel from the 300 Delaware Avenue building in downtown Wilmington.
Special Olympics Delaware is an amazing nonprofit organization that has been allowing Delawareans the opportunity to train and compete in 20 sports for more 40 years.
This year, the Special Olympics Delaware held its third Over the Edge fundraiser, raising over $125,000, in which Delawareans could earn the chance to rappel down the 17-story Brandywine Realty Trust building after raising $1,000 or more for the organization. In order to promote the fundraiser, media outlets were offered free spots to try their hand at the rappel.
Lucky for me, both Chris Clark and Ryan Saxton were absent from the editorial meeting where the rappel was up for grabs. I immediately jumped on it. It seemed like the best way to celebrate the day after my 25th birthday, a good quarter-life crisis purchase that wouldn’t cost me anything.
Everyone around the office was excited — Point Editor Darin McCann said that he’d rappelled while in the Marines and Art Director Bob Bertam said he’d done it when he was a kid — both found it to be a fun experience, which was reassuring. When I told my parents they both gave a nervous laugh and said, ‘Oh, that sounds interesting.’ My brother’s reaction was simply, ‘Cool… did you tell mom?’
May 9th arrives and it is cold and gray and raining buckets in Sussex County. The day before we received an email from Jon Buzby, director of media relations for Special Olympics, who said if the weather is bad, the rappel would be canceled. I resigned myself to accept that I won’t have my own little adventure.
I get another email from Jon saying if I still come up they’ll try to get me down the building early and beat the rain and thunder. Laura Walter, Chris and I piled in my car and headed upstate. The drive was nasty and the rain seemed to be coming down harder and harder. Then, out of nowhere, the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun was shining. Perhaps I’ll get to go down after all, I thought.
When we arrived at the building, I stopped and looked up. People were on their way down and the building loomed over us. Before there was any chance to hesitate, we were ushered up to the 10th floor, where both Chris and I signed a lengthy waiver to go up onto the roof. While we were there, another member of the press was rappelling down and he decides to take a rest right in front of the windows. The poor man had his eyes squeezed shut, holding onto his rope for dear life, shaking his head and talking to himself… This wasn’t the best way to introduce me to what I am about to do.
I was immediately introduced to Chris Davis, who works for Over the Edge. He oversaw that my harness, helmet, gloves, walky-talky and a number of other items, weighing a good 15 pounds, were properly secured to my person. He allowed us to secure my iPhone to my harness with a great deal of electrical tape so we could record my journey. Then he took us to the roof door.
We had to be escorted from place to place on the roof, as to not wander off and our guide had been held up. While Chris and I were waiting to cross the threshold into the sun I felt a shot of adrenaline hit me. All of a sudden my heart was pounding out of my chest. I was scared, but I was ready. A few deep breaths and we were outside.
A quick practice run on the outside of a mini-building on the rooftop gave me a good feel for the ropes and equipment and I easily bounced down to the rooftop.
Brian Hughs from Over the Edge was my handler until my feet were on the ground. He has been doing events like this all over the country and he can clearly do this in his sleep. Luckily, he’s wide-awake. I’m attached to two ropes and all of my equipment is triple-checked.
This was it — the moment. He told me to face him and take a step backward. A backward step, no less, going up onto the edge of the building, with nothing but a good 170 feet of air between me and the ground.
It’s funny how going over the edge wasn’t actually scary at all. Maybe it’s because I was too busy listening to what Brian had to say; “Sit down like you’re going to sit in a chair.” “You’re going to feel the weight of the rope in your right hand.”
He was right — 200 plus feet of rope is a lot heavier than the practice rope I used not five minutes earlier. I leaned back, took a few steps and I was on my way down. I was officially rappelling.
“Have fun,” Brian yelled. And, “Check out the view.”
The view was dazzling. Looking down I could see little dots that I could only assume were the onlookers who had gathered to see us make our way down the building. Looking up, I saw Chris and Brian leaning over, watching my descent. All around me, I heard cars, birds, trees wrestling in the wind and was face to face with tall buildings that I never really took a good look at until right then.
The rope was heavy in my hands and I was starting to breathe hard. I was trying to go slowly, to take everything in. I started to recite the A.E. Houseman poem “Loveliest of Trees,” my go-to method for getting my head together, and to try and set a steady, slow, pace.
Eight minutes in and all of a sudden I was looking into the 10th floor. I saw Laura immediately and screamed, “It’s so awesome!” and started giggling, as a crowd of onlookers had gathered at the window to wave at me.
And just as quickly as they appeared, they were gone, and I was down another story. It’s very strange looking into a building from the outside as the one who’s being observed. People in the lower floors were sitting at their desks as I made my way by them. Some came to the window to wave, some just smiled and carried on with their work, while others were completely unphased by the person dangling outside of their window.
I look up and Chris and Brian had become a speck at the top of the roof, where I felt I was on only moments before. I looked down and I was quickly approaching another ledge and I could start to see the features of the people on the sidewalk below me.
Then, in a blink of an eye, my feet were on the ground. Laura ran over to me with a tape recorder to ask for my thoughts on my journey.
“It was way too short,” I half-yelled excitedly. My heart was beating fast, my hands shaking, my cheeks sore from grinning like an idiot. Just like that, it was over.
We made our way back to the 10th floor where Chris Davis congratulated me and helped me get out of my gear. He told us that once you go over, you never stop wanting to go more. He’s right, I’m already plotting my next rappel.
A week has passed and the excitement has died off and my adventure seems as if it had never even happened. As silly as it sounds, my rappel was life-changing. I’m never the person to jump up to volunteer to do something extreme. I constantly say that I would never skydive or go bungee jumping, yet I pounced on the opportunity to lower myself down a skyscraper.
The experience was one that I hope to do again, and as soon as possible. Yes, it was scary. Yes, I stepped out of my comfort zone, but it helped me renew the feeling that I can do anything, and that it’s not so bad to stop for a moment and check out the view.