There are a number of ways to raise money for charity: car washes, bake sales, telethons or walkathons. Special Olympics Texas took those into consideration, "but we wanted to do something fun, something people would remember," said Joan Jarrett, who oversees sponsorships for the organization.
The decision: those companies or sponsors who raise the necessary funds can send someone over a 250-foot ledge. Properly equipped, of course.
Teaming with Over the Edge, a professional rappelling company, Special Olympics Texas was responsible for sending nearly 60 people down the 22-story face of the InterContinental Hotel on Friday afternoon and all-day Saturday. That explains the traffic on 610 over the weekend.
The Houston event was one of three that the organization was hosting in Texas. Days prior 65 individuals rappelled down a 15-story InterContinental in Dallas and tomorrow a number of brave souls will take to the 15-story hotel in Austin.
Between the three events, over $170,000 was raised for the 36,000-plus Special Olympics athletes in Texas, according to Ramonica Jones, a public relations coordinator with the organization.
Brent Clanton, a radio personality from CBS Radio's Talk650, was among the media who was given the opportunity to tempt fate. He wasn't so much bothered by the height or the sensation of leaning back over the edge, but the controls, those were something else.
"Stopping and going, the directions they were giving us were almost counter-intuitive -- let off to stop, squeeze to go," he explained. Once on the floor, after getting locked up at one point on the descent, he didn't seem to have any of the "car accident shakes," as Margaret Larsen, the President & CEO of Special Olympics Texas, called them.
Clanton mentioned that he had previous extreme fundraising experience with Jarrett. Something about diving into 600 gallons of raspberry Jell-O in a Houston Hyatt.
"Joan Jarrett has trashed more hotels than Mick Jagger," he said.
But how does one convince a hotel to let people risk their lives, rappelling down from the roof? You put Jarrett to work on them. A confident and jubilant woman, with brown hair, a quick smile and hearty Texan accent, she seems capable of convincing a Democrat to invite George W. Bush back into the White House, if she so desired.
After plenty of "No's," she managed to get the General Manager of InterContinental Hotels on the phone. "Are you sitting down?" she asked. "I want you to let us have people rappel from the roof of your hotels."
He hesitated a moment, and then said, "I love this," Jarrett recalls.
And so it was that, beginning on Friday, blue and red ropes dangled from the roof and tennis shoes smudges littered the windows.
Clanton was among the most confident and capable; a man used to trying something new for the sake of media and a good cause. For the rest of the Friday rappellers, Hair Balls included, the experience wasn't quite as simple on the nerves.
Hair Balls was paired with an attractive blonde woman representing Apache Corporation, one of the primary sponsors (Subaru and InterContinental were the others). Valerie Chase had recently made the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa for a wedding anniversary, encountering vast drops without the safety of railing, so the height of the hotel was hardly a concern for her. Hair Balls, however, doesn't usually go much higher than the top of its desk to fix a light bulb.
Which is why, unlike Clanton or Chase, Hair Balls was rattled when the dude at the top -- the one responsible for rigging the ropes and explaining the process -- said, "Alright, you're all set, just lean back," as though he'd just asked us to climb a step ladder. Just that easy; just lean back over the edge of a 250-foot building, with all of Houston visible in the distance. No big deal.
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Seeing that our attractive blonde counterpart was already over the edge and two steps down, ego and self-worth came to mind and we took a deep breath, put on a fake smile and let gravity take its course. We leaned back until perpendicular to the side of the building, and took the first steps. We couldn't be made to look the fool. If Chase could do it, we could too.
Besides, this was for charity, and no one wants to look like an ass when it comes to charity.
Hair Balls wasn't the fastest or the most graceful, but we lived to talk about it. And our abs are all the stronger.
And 50 more people did it the next day and no lives were lost. Just another day in the life of a charity doing some good.