RALEIGH — When standing on the edge of the roof of the Wells Fargo building, the last thing it makes sense to do is step backwards.
But thats what nearly 100 people did Saturday as they rappelled 32 stories down the side of the skyscraper for the Special Olympics Over the Edge fundraising event.
All day Saturday, a crowd of friends and family cheered in the courtyard outside Cafe Carolina as their loved ones made the roughly 20-minute descent back down to solid earth.
Its unique and innovative, said Special Olympics North Carolina president Keith Fishburne. We try to get out of that traditional 5K and golf tournament, like with the polar plunge and the plane pull. This is just that different that people get into it.
Participants had to raise $1,000 for the opportunity to harness up and go over the edge, and Fishburne estimated that the event would raise $120,000. Since Special Olympics athletes participate in athletic programs for free, funds raised go toward paying for everything from sports training to competition facilities to sports uniforms.
This is the third time Special Olympics has hosted an Over the Edge fundraiser in Raleigh, and theyll do it in Charlotte next weekend for the second time.
Over the Edge is a company that organizes rappelling opportunities for charity fundraisers. They host about 70 a year nationwide, 40 of which are done for Special Olympics.
Those who decided to face their fears and rappel down the building first had to get trained in how to use their equipment and test it out by rappelling down the side of a nearby parking deck on Fayetteville Street.
Once they proved themselves to be masters of their ropes, rappellers were brought up to the top of the Wells Fargo building in a service elevator. Once on the roof, they said their farewells to a camera live-streaming the event, and began their descent.
As Jennifer Vocke of Hight Point stood on the edge of the roof gathering her wits, she said she was thinking about her special needs students.
I kept my students in mind, Vocke said. I wanted to do it for them. They work so hard every day, I wanted to do something for them.
Vocke teaches 14- to 22-year-olds in her special-needs classes at High Point Central High School. She said she came out to participate in the fundraiser because many of her students are Special Olympics athletes.
Most everyone who donned a baby-blue Over the Edge climbing helmet had a personal reason for being there.
A team of eight employees from A Small Miracle, a service agency for people with special needs, faced the challenge together.
Janet Presson, who founded the agency that helps people keep their loved ones with intellectual disabilities at home, came all the way from Waynesville to participate in the fundraiser.
We know where the money goes, because we provide services for Special Olympics athletes, Presson said before stepping out onto the roof.
One of her employees, Derek Stevens, also out of Waynesville, came dressed as Captain America. Asked if he donned the superhero costume to give himself courage, Stevens said the costume was meant as a symbol for others.
Im an iconic figure to give everyone courage to fight for what is right, for those who cant fight for themselves, Stevens said.
Annie Tane and Kerry Hagner, two Special Olympics athletes from Chapel Hill, came out to support those who were supporting them.
Its very exciting to see all these people being so brave, said Hagner, who won gold and silver when she competed in cycling events in China in 2007.
Afraid of heights, Hagner said she probably wont ever gain the courage to participate, but she was happy to cheer on those who did.