For Lt. Col. Sandy Karsten of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, rappelling 13 stories down the Jefferson State Office building is a way to be more like Special Olympics athletes, who practice courage every day.
“If they can do it, I can do it,” she says.
Karsten is referring to Over the Edge, an adrenaline-pumped event in which participants raise $1,000 to rappel down a prominent building. Proceeds benefit Special Olympics Missouri.
“Have you ever gotten a hug from a Special Olympics athlete? If you’ve ever presented a medal, you see how happy they are and you celebrate the success with them,” she says. “You see what your dollar does for those special people. It gives you a good feeling to support them.”
Karsten’s colleagues had been participating in the Polar Plunge for years, but she declined because she does not do well with cold water. When she heard about Over the Edge, she felt like this was a good opportunity to take a more active role in raising funds. While $1,000 can seem like a daunting amount, Karsten says it’s mostly a matter of talking to people.
“Don’t be afraid to ask people,” she says. “I wear Special Olympics apparel – it’s a great conversation starter while you’re standing in line at the grocery store. I talk about my involvement with the (Law Enforcement) Torch Run. I’ve gone to people we do business with and told them about Special Olympics being our charity of choice. Most people are eager to assist.”
She says her department has hosted trivia nights, dunking booths, bake sales and poker rallies. They try to infuse fun into raising money, which helps them look forward to the event each year.
The event is offered in St. Louis and Jefferson City each fall. This year, participants have the choice of rappelling down the Jefferson State Office Building on Oct. 15 or the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch on Oct. 29. Both venues offer spectacular views and the opportunity to see the cities from a unique perspective.
“If you’re brave enough to turn to the side, you can see the governor’s mansion and the river,” she says. “If you can stand to look down, you can see your supporters down there.”
This bravery mirrors the bravery that Special Olympics athletes display each time they step onto the playing field. They’re overcoming stigma of having an intellectual disability and decades upon decades of stereotypes that have oppressed people like them. Special Olympics gives them the opportunity to shine, showcase their abilities and be celebrated for who they are.
Rappelling down a tall building can seem daunting, especially for anyone who has a fear of heights. Karsten has some advice for putting yourself in the right mental space before a rappel. She practiced by doing a rock climbing wall at her local YMCA.
“For everyone, there is a short training session, and that’s when I get nervous,” she says. “But that leaves after you feel comfortable with the harness and trust the rigging. When you get up on the wall to go down, you just remember your training, and gravity takes care of the rest.”
Karsten says that talking about the event afterward is important as well. She lets people know how much fun she had and ensures that her donors feel appreciated.
“Now that I’ve done it three times, people ask me, ‘Hey are you rappelling for Special Olympics again? How much is needed to put you Over the Edge?’”
You can learn more and register to participate in Over the Edge at www.somo.org/edge.