COLUMBIA — Ten stories above Columbia, Cecily Daller took several deep breaths as she nudged her heels toward the edge of the roof of the Tiger Hotel.
Brightly colored ropes ran down the east side of the building. Daller's parents and daughter stood on Eighth Street, 150 feet below her.
“That’s the scariest moment, standing backwards on the edge with just your toes on the building," said Mandi Steward, Public Relations Coordinator for Special Olympics Missouri. "Then it’s just all fun.”
Daller was one of 22 participants in Over the Edge, a fundraising event for Special Olympics. This was the second year of what has become an annual event in several cities across Missouri. This year, the event took place in Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis. Participants had to raise $1,000 for the cause.
Over the Edge is a company that helps nonprofits reward people for pledging donations by sending them down the sides of buildings in their area. They put on numerous events with Special Olympics all over the country.
Volunteers said the Tiger Hotel was chosen because it is one of the tallest and most recognized buildings in Columbia. In Kansas City, the rappelling location of choice was the 15-story Clubhouse on Baltimore. On Friday, St. Louis will host the largest event in Missouri this year, with 95 people registered to drop 22 stories at Lumière Place Casino and Hotel.
“Special Olympics always tries to come up with something a little different,” said Jeanie Byland, a board member from Columbia for Special Olympics Missouri. "It draws a lot of attention to the organization. Once people do it, they start talking about it, and we find that once they volunteer they usually come back.”
Byland has been a board member for four years and has been active with Special Olympics for the past 25 years. Her daughter, Sarah Byland, was the only Special Olympics athlete to participate in today's challenge. It was her second time to complete the feat.
"You get used to it," Sarah said as she greeted friends and family at the bottom, receiving a bear hug from her mother.
"She was really brave," Steward said. "We're really proud of her."
The participants started out in a staging room where all the equipment was laid out: harnesses, helmets and gloves. Participants then continued on to the practice round, which was three stories high.
For most, the practice round was the time to get over the jitters.
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, I think,” Daller said as she walked toward the rappellingequipment, where a member of the Over the Edge team stood ready to show her the basics. Besides ziplining on her honeymoon, Daller said she had never done anything like this.
Others seemed laid back, as if gliding down the side of a building superhero-style was something they did every day. Board member Colleen Lamond arrived in a leopard unitard. She had previous experience rock climbing, so she wasn't nervous.
Her motivation was simple. “I do it to support Special Olympics,” she said.
Others had a more personal story to get them over the edge. Jerry Cupp said he did it to support a friend and athlete, Shirlene Treadwell. She bowls, plays volleyball and golfs, and she just received a gold medal in golf at the national games. Treadwell is in the Special Olympics Hall of Fame in Springfield.
“He told (Shirlene) he would jump off the roof for her,” said Naomi Cupp, Jerry’s wife. “We have been involved in Special Olympics for a long time, but he is doing this event because she asked.”
Participants left their practice round with a feeling of what was to come. The elevator took them to the ninth floor of the hotel, with another flight of stairs following that.
At this point, participants had a bird’s-eye view of the town, seeing buildings like Jesse Hall and Memorial Union from an uncommon angle.
No one has gotten cold feet in the two years the event has run. A lot of nerves have climbed the stairs to the roof, but so has a lot of courage.
"I don't think the donors would be too pleased if their participant ended up not going through with it," Steward said. "But I have been up here when people wait at the top for a good ten minutes before they can let go."
While fear might be expected from the participants, they seemed to have a good time.
"It was awesome," Lamond said when her feet hit solid ground again. "I was pretty concentrated on rappelling down. I would definitely do it again.”
For Treadwell, Jerry Cupp's leap of faith meant a lot.
“I asked her, ‘Shirlene, what are you getting me into these things for?’ She’s very persuasive,” Cupp joked after his rappel, smiling at Treadwell, who stood nearby. “I enjoyed it very much."
“It’s not something that anybody would do for anybody," Treadwell said. "I’m really thankful that he did it.”
The smile on Daller’s face said it all when she had finished her trip down. Each person controls how fast or slow he or she moves with a hand brake. The rush of falling is what kept Daller going faster rather than taking in the scenery.
“It’s really thrilling to go down,” she said. “I wanted to go slower, but I just kept squeezing. Now I’m just giddy.”