Thursday, September 9, 2010

Over the Edge

Given the chance, would you rappel 13 stories down the face of a building? That is exactly what roughly 40 people, including Cottage Grove resident Michelle Schmidt, did Wednesday, Sept. 1 and Thursday, Sept. 2.

Individuals had to raise a minimum of $1,500 each for Special Olympics Wisconsin for the opportunity to rappel down Madison's Hilton Hotel Sept. 2.

The unique event is the first new major fundraiser Special Olympics Wisconsin has initiated since the World's Largest Truck Convoy fundraiser in 2004.

Special Olympics Wisconsin President and CEO Dennis Alldridge said one challenge when putting the Madison and Milwaukee Over the Edge events together was finding a building where owners would let them set up the ropes system.

"Whenever you say 'we are going to have people up on your roof and we are going to have them rappelling down the side of your building,' we got a lot of 'oh really? I don't think we're going to do that,'" Alldridge said.

"The reason the Hilton here was very willing and accepting is they do training for the fire departments to rappel down the back of the building."

Although the main event was held Sept. 2, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Bucky Badger and various media personnel were invited to go Over the Edge free of charge on Sept. 1.

Van Hollen was the first to rappel down the Hilton Hotel for Over the Edge Media Day. Van Hollen is the former chair of the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run, and his Department of Justice has volunteered to help with one of the activities or sports at Special Olympics since he was appointed attorney general.

"I have a great affinity for the athletes and all that they believe in and all that the Special Olympics does for them," the attorney general said. "So anything I can do for their cause, be it give them encouragement or publicity, is something I am very eager to do."

Other rappellers joining Van Hollen for media day included UW-Madison's own Bucky Badger, Karin Swanson of WISC-TV and Dan Simmons of the Wisconsin State Journal, among others.

Schmidt, a local agency manager for Special Olympics and one of the last rappellers Thursday, began her descent at 4 p.m. Despite signing up less than three weeks before the event, she managed to raise $1,775 for Special Olympics.

Schmidt has been involved in Special Olympics by volunteering and coaching for eight years.

"I just have way too much fun," she said. "I have more fun than the athletes, and it's something that just really keeps me grounded."

She said watching the athletes participate and the fun they experience when they learn and master a new skill is her favorite part.

"It's just really exciting to watch," she added.

Although she said the fist step off the edge of the hotel seemed unnatural, she felt good once she started her descent.

"You have no concept of time," she said. "I didn't even notice my fear of heights."

Alldridge said planning for next year's Over the Edge event started right away after the Sept. 8 Over the Edge event in Milwaukee. Next year he plans to go after sponsorships with other companies.

One possible idea is trying to work out a promotion with Ford's Ford Edge vehicle.

"We think there is a way that they could have a Ford Edge out here and maybe people who raise $2,500, they would get a Ford Edge lease for a month," Alldridge said. "Any corporations or entities that have anything to do with "edge" in the name we are going to go after next year. We identified them this year, but just didn't have a chance to do much with them."

Alldridge is looking into holding the event in mid-October next year, with the possibility for a toss your boss promotion. He expects the event will grow in size and be very large.

"It's going to be ginormous. These events, once you get the word out, people will see this and go 'holy cow, I would really like to do that. How do I get to do this?' Every event that has happened, the second year is the growth year, because it is so new and unique," Alldridge said.

"Plus, unlike the Polar Plunge, this event is a success with 50-75 people," he continued. "It might not be for everybody, but we'd say for cause-conscious thrill-seekers."

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