Beyond the Edge

In Do, July 2016 / August 2016 by Cameron Walker

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Although he wasn’t particularly worried about rappelling 400 feet from the glass facade of a downtown skyscraper, Phil Gruber says his mother was.

“My mom tried to talk me out of it,” says the local businessman and frequent participant in the Special Olympics North Carolina fundraising event, Over the Edge. “I’ve been six times and every time she tries to talk me out of it. But my wife thinks it’s cool, and my kids love it.”

This fall, for the seventh year in a row, participants who have raised a minimum of $1,000 will rappel 30 stories down the Wells Fargo Capitol Center building in downtown Raleigh. Proceeds will help provide year-round sports programming for our state’s nearly 40,000 Special Olympics athletes.

The annual event, with locations in both Raleigh and Charlotte, has raised about $1 million for the organization from 1,300 rappellers in the past six years. Around 200 people are expected to participate this year.

“Over the Edge is such a unique fundraiser,” says Rachel McQuiston, Vice President of Communications for Special Olympics North Carolina. “Participants get the once-in-a-lifetime experience of rappelling 30 stories down a Raleigh skyscraper.”

“The view is fabulous,” says Raleigh financial officer and repeat participant Geoffrey Griffin. Instead of looking down, he takes in the downtown panorama reflected in the building’s windows.

“It’s like sitting in a chair, walking down a building,” he says. For Gruber, any apprehension fades once he goes over the edge of the building and trusts the equipment.

“Once I start the rappel, the nerves go away and it’s a blast,” he says. “There are so many safety systems in place, there isn’t much to be scared of.”

Safety is paramount to the organization; participants are strapped into a full-body harness, hooked onto a backup line and use an industrial, self-braking descender to scale down the building.

“They triple check your gear. Once you are locked in, you can  swing a bit from a heavy tripod on the roof before you step up to the ledge…then you get on your knees on the roof wall facing the building. Stand up, slowly lean back and start walking down. It’s obviously a bit weird at first, to lean back close to 90 degrees off a building. But once you do, you feel how much more control you have in that position. Then you start walking and it’s a blast!” says Gruber.

Griffin says his favorite part of the event is not the descent itself, but what happens next. After the participant has reached the ground, a Special Olympics athlete presents you with a medal.

“Raising money by doing something unique and exhilarating—what’s not to like about that?” says Gruber.

Are you willing to go Over the Edge?

When: Sept. 30 & Oct. 1

Where: Wells Fargo
Capitol Center

How: Visit sonc.net/help-to-fundraise/over-the-edge/. The organization will help you sign up and set up an online page. Note: Participants must be at least 14 years old and weigh between 110 and 300 lbs.

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