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Why I rappelled down a 17-storey building

TORONTO – Have you ever seen downtown Toronto from the top of a 17 storey building?  I got a chance to do that today and I have to admit, it was a pretty cool place to be sitting on a Monday morning while the rest of the city rushed around down below.

I rappelled the Canadian Real Estate Investment Trust (CRIET) building at Bloor and Church streets for the 2014 Easter Seals Toronto Drop Zone. I’d been invited to co-host the event and afterwards to rappel.

Participants were encouraged to take on the challenge and step out of their comfort zones for a good cause.  They had to raise a minimum of $1,500 to take part.  For that, they not scaled 200 feet down a building, they also helped children and youth with physical disabilities.   Since 2005, over 6,000 people have taken part and more than $10 million has been raised.

“It gives everyday people the chance to become superheroes for the day and the funds raised help kids with physical disabilities,” said Orsolya Soos, senior communications officer with Easter Seals Ontario,” We help provide financial assistance for mobility equipment and we provide summer camp opportunities.”

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Tyler Preece, is one of this year’s Easter Seals Ambassadors who rappelled the 17 storey CREIT building.

“Really exciting,” said Tyler, “I’ve never done something like that before.”

Tyler was born with hydrocephalus and Goldenhar’s Syndrome which is a condition that affects various parts of the body. As a result he has no thumbs, hearing loss and no vision in his right eye.

The 19-year-old said Easter Seals has made a big difference in his life.  He learned lifelong lessons going to camp as a child, which help him even today, like “being able to communicate with people better.”

“It’s easier to meet people and make friends,” he said.

Tyler attends York University.  He is taking environmental studies as well as music for non-majors.  He also enjoys dressage, playing the piano, golf and other activities.

Stories like Tyler’s keep people coming back to this event.  Some get really creative and dress up like superheroes.  Usually I see some kind of caped crusader and Monday I met Matt Moncur, who was dressed up like “Super Chicken”.  He got his boss Rick Peterson to take part (Peterson wore a gorilla mask).

Moncur said the “Super Chicken” costume wasn’t his idea.

“Basically people when they donate, they get to pick…and this year Super Chicken won.  I was Super Banana last year,” he said.

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Tammy McQueen donned colourful butterfly wings for her descent.

“I wanted something that wasn’t the usual,” she said.  “I’m a little scared of heights.  I was shaking the entire time but I’m glad I did it.”

I heard that a lot today.

“It’s for a good cause.  It’s for the kids,” said Christina Wong, “But I also wanted to experience something crazy too, because I never thought I’d rappel down a 17-storey building. So yeah, it was a lot of fun.”

Steven Johnson, the president and CEO of CREIT, said nearly 25 per cent of his employees are taking part in the event.

“They’ve either supported financially or emotionally, just cheering everyone on. So, a great team effort,” he said.

The Rock Oasis staff helped participants through the whole rappel: from helmet, to harness to helping participants with words of encouragement and support. It’s reassuring. I was a bit nervous – it’s been awhile since I’d last rappelled a building.

As I made my way along the side of the building, I thought about how cool the city looked from that high up.  I also thought about my sister who went to Easter Seals camps as a kid.

“I didn’t feel different there,” she told me. “I could do anything and made a lot of friends.”

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I also thought about Camp Woodeden, an Easter Seals camp near London, Ontario. I visited it last year for a story about the organization’s 90th anniversary. Campers can go zip-lining, rock-climbing and take part in a high ropes course that’s 30 feet off the ground – where wheelchairs are welcome!

A camper named Wesley came to mind.  The 12-year-old told me before camp, he had been afraid of heights but getting a chance to be up that high made him feel free.

“Now, I know how a bird feels,” he said.