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The Raleigh Tower becomes a challenge on the wish list to raise money for the Special Olympics

Celeste Parker, a retired state worker, made it easy to hear as she checked in for her fourth trip, rappelling from the Wells Fargo office tower in downtown Raleigh to raise money for the Special Olympics.

“I like to stop, look around and take everything in,” she said.

Parker and more than 100 others raised at least $1,000 each Saturday to run down the 30-story, 400-foot-tall tower wearing harnesses and shackles, helping the Special Olympics North Carolina raise nearly $150,000, about To provide sporting opportunities to 40,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Keith Fishburne, the nonprofit's CEO, said the 14-year rappel from the tower has raised over $2 million.

“People see it as something unique,” ​​he said. “A lot of people look at it as a sort of to-do list, and then when you combine that with the fact that it benefits what I think is a very remarkable and valuable charity, it's just a win-win. ”

Special Olympians help run the event. Two were presenters who announced each rapper and interviewed them after they were finished. The rappers each receive a medal.

Kristine Hughes, director of athlete leadership for Special Olympics North Carolina, began participating in the games in 2002 and now directs the volleyball competitions. She rappelled down the building six times.

“It’s a challenge, but that’s the whole goal,” Hughes said. “We want people to feel a little bit of the challenge of what we as athletes with intellectual disabilities go through in our daily lives.”

It's called the “Over The Edge” challenge, but for organizers the challenge is to get more people to try it, Fishburne said. Unlike Parker, many people only do it once.

Lauren Greer receives a rappelling lesson before descending the Wells Fargo office tower in Raleigh on September 30, 2023.  Rappelling raises money for Special Olympics North Carolina.  Dan Kane/News & Observer

Lauren Greer receives a rappelling lesson before descending the Wells Fargo office tower in Raleigh on September 30, 2023. Rappelling raises money for Special Olympics North Carolina. Dan Kane/News & Observer

At midday, as Parker stood on the ledge at the top of the tower, hooked up and ready to descend, Lauren Greer and Stephen Votino took a lesson on the roof from trainer David Bright. Votino owns Century 21 Triangle Group and Greer is one of his brokers. His company is a regular donor to the Special Olympics, but neither had rappelled before.

“I got a massage yesterday to ease my anxiety,” Greer said.

It worked. She slept well and woke up ready to go.

“At that point I kind of figured we’ll give it a try.”

Votino admitted to being afraid of heights. But soon the two of them slowly lowered themselves, their sneaker-clad feet bouncing lightly off the glass facade. About 10 minutes later they arrived at the bottom with big grins on their faces.

“I had a lot of fun. I didn't even freak out,” Votino said.

And he didn't have to look around to enjoy the view.

“It's funny, it took me a while to realize I could look at the reflection in the windows,” he said. “That was cool, really, really cool.”

However, Parker said this time it wasn't as cooperative as the previous ones. It was gustier at the top, making it harder to get past the side of the skyscraper.

“It was fine,” she said. “I jumped around a bit.”

Fishburne said the event took months to organize, in part because the rappers needed to raise a significant amount of money and had enough lead time to fit the event into their schedule. He said Special Olympics North Carolina will begin promoting next year's challenge in February.

Lauren Greer shows the medal she received for rappelling down the Wells Fargo Tower in Raleigh on September 30, 2023.  The event raises money for Special Olympics North Carolina.  Dan Kane/News & ObserverLauren Greer shows the medal she received for rappelling down the Wells Fargo Tower in Raleigh on September 30, 2023.  The event raises money for Special Olympics North Carolina.  Dan Kane/News & Observer

Lauren Greer shows the medal she received for rappelling down the Wells Fargo Tower in Raleigh on September 30, 2023. The event raises money for Special Olympics North Carolina. Dan Kane/News & Observer

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