A young volunteer describes her experience at Special Olympics Maryland Over the Edge event.
By: Annie Dolan
“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” is the Special Olympics Athlete Oath. This oath emphasizes the importance of effort and trying for one’s personal best. When I applied to volunteer for “Over The Edge” for Special Olympics, I never imagined the satisfaction and adrenaline I would feel when participating with the positive athletes and volunteers. Everyone participating and volunteering certainly shows a never ending positive attitude and a respect for every athlete. Over The Edge was an event where sponsors of Special Olympics and Special Olympic athletes would rappel down the sixteen story 2 Bethesda Metro Center. I arrived in Bethesda, Maryland expecting to help with check-in or selling merchandise but my assignment was something I would never forget.
I was given my job but did not quite understand what I would be doing until I got to the sixteenth story. Adam and Sara, the rappelling and safety experts, told me I would be “on belay.” On belay refers to the person who exerts tension on a climbing rope so that a falling climber does not fall very far before he or she regains their ability to climb or descend. The person on belay applies tension to the rope whenever the rappeler needs assistance to stop their descent. My job was to secure the rope on the ground and make sure they do not come down too quickly. I listened attentively through safety training and made sure I knew how to unclip every carabiner once they reached the ground. Although I was nervous, I was excited for one aspect Adam told me to pay attention for. I should anticipate the athletes reactions when they reach the ground including smiles, screams, hugs, and lots of high fives.
While on the ground, my fellow belayers and I made sure to communicate with the men and women on the roof when the ropes were clear or if someone had become stuck on the rope mid way through. Adam had encouraged me and made corrections to my work in hope that it would make a less bumpy landing for the athletes. But how smooth the landing was did not matter to the athletes. They were happy to have made it down and accomplish their own goal of getting over the edge. The reactions from Special Olympic athletes made it an overwhelmingly positive day. I was happy to be apart of such an amazing organization with dedicated people running it.
I was shocked that the team had given me so much responsibility so quickly. The experience was a microcosm of my life as a student and as a Saint Mary Saint. I had to listen and be focused and attentive to the instruction that was given. I had to apply what I had learned and be a confident leader providing direction to spectators, families, athletes. I was on a radio with the experts at the top and had to give them accurate and timely information on the situation and could not provide them anything but concise and honest information so that they could ensure the safety of the athletes. I was able to exercise leadership because I had to direct and lead a super-charged athlete once they hit the ground. They were in the stars with excitement and needed me to direct them to safely get off the rope and leave the safety zone.
As a leader that day I had to encourage the athletes to be brave and step off the edge and do what they had been taught while descending. Little did I know but my leadership and encouragement was going to be tested as a leader. Could I do what I had encouraged others to do? After the athletes and supporters had rappelled down the side of the tall building, Adam and Sara called me back up to the sixteenth floor and offered me the opportunity to rappel the building. I never would have imagined that my day was going to turn out this way but I had worked 10 hours straight and felt like I still had endless energy. I was given the opportunity to see the excitement of the athletes and the sense of accomplishment that is the trademark of Special Olympics. Now it was my turn to take the step out and over the edge. With Adam and Sara cheering me on, I placed my feet on the edge of the building with my heels hanging off the side of the building. I caught a glimpse of the ground and my body froze, I could not believe what I was about to do. I was asked to lean back so that my body was perpendicular to the side of the building. As Adam and Sara told me to relax, my body did nothing close to relaxing. I knew there was no turning back as I had encouraged all the athletes to take this courageous step and now as a leader, I had to do the same. I leaned back and my heart froze, I stopped breathing until I could feel tension in the rope and I was not falling. I had my feet on the building and my body was parallel to the ground and perpendicular to the building. I now had to relax my muscles so I could relieve tension in the line so I would descend. There was no going back and I started my descent. I was relaxed enough by about the eighth floor to stop and take a look around, I could see a large part of downtown Bethesda from the outside of this building. I hit the deck and the special olympic athletes were more enthusiastic than I was cheering me on. What a day! I will become a dedicated special olympic volunteer because I received so much positive energy from them. In this service project, I thought that I would have given more than I received but the net gain was on my side for sure!
This article was written by Kira Northrop