Trust the ropes that will save your life if you need them to.
That’s what I continued to tell myself as I inched closer and closer to the edge of a 272-foot downtown high-rise backwards. All the while, trying to avoid the terrifying view below.
My stomach was in knots as I tried to breathe deeply and remind myself why I was at the top of the building in the first place.
I looked around on the roof and saw people of all ages and abilities suiting up and getting ready to take on the same challenge I was. Some were in superhero costumes and wheelchairs, others were twice my age.
We knew what we were about to do was tough, but the annual Easter Seals Drop Zone supports 47,000 Manitobans living with disabilities every day, so for just one day, we were putting our nerves on the line.
When it was time to step off Manitoba Hydro’s 23-floor building overlooking the city, I felt as though I had just gone for a long run — my heart was beating very fast.
I started to lean back into my harness, breathing heavy and confirming with the assisting crew that I was holding the ropes correctly.
I looked intensely into their eyes, trying to forget the how high in the air I was, asking if everything would be OK a few times before completely leaning back into the supporting harness, and, ever so slowly, letting go.
I decided to put all of my trust in the ropes and the encouraging team of climbing professionals who were managing them and… I felt secure!
My feet were both placed on the building as they walked me down, floor by floor, while I slightly tugged at the ropes which would lower me, pull by pull.
I looked through the glass of the Manitoba Hydro building and saw people inside waving, pointing and cheering us on.
Most of the time, when I’m taking on challenges like this, it’s all broadcast live on television and this wasn’t any different.
I knew at 7:50 a.m. my drop was live on Global News Morning, so I started talking about the experience to my co-hosts back in studio, while trying to catch my breath.
Just for the record, trying to speak and rappel down a building at the same time is not as easy as it looks.
Eventually, I took a long, frightening look down at the ground and watched mini cars on their way to work driven by tiny people among the buildings of downtown Winnipeg.
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During the rappel, I saw other brave Manitobans dropping down the building beside me. We would chat and encourage each other as we passed, meeting for the first time during one of the most fearful moments of our lives — this was one of my favourite parts of the exhilarating rappel!
One of those Manitobans was Sara Ryland.
Just five years ago at 25 years old, Ryland was in a wheelchair battling multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system affecting the brain and spinal cord.
“One day I woke up and I couldn’t walk,” Ryland said. “It was very scary.”
She spent more than two weeks in the hospital and remembers feeling extremely relieved when the Easter Seals team brought her a wheelchair.
“Before I got the wheelchair my husband basically had to carry me around everywhere … it meant a lot to have that wheelchair because I was able to go out, my mom would take me shopping,” Ryland said. “Then my mom was diagnosed with ALS and they gave her a mobility scooter and a wheelchair.”
WATCH: Drop Zone participant Sara Ryland shares her journey to recovery after spending time in a wheelchair
Ryland made regular visits to the hospital for plasmapheresis treatment, which she describes as “like dialysis but they’re filtering your blood plasma and putting in new healthy collecting plasma.”
“I went in twice a week for a month, which made me very ill but in the end it really improved my health,” Ryland said. “About three, four months after I was finished with that procedure, I sent back the wheelchair because I didn’t need it anymore and that was a really fantastic feeling.”
Ryland remembers watching Drop Zone on the news one day and wishing she could do it, so she started working toward her goal, exercising twice a week and doing yoga to prepare her body for her bucket-list challenge.
“I didn’t know I’d be able to do anything like this again and I’m so proud that I was able to overcome and accomplish this.”
It’s because of incredibly resilient people like Ryland that I was inspired to take on the drop of a lifetime.
More than 70 Manitobans completed Drop Zone 2018 Aug. 28, a day I will never forget.
Most participants had to raise $1,500 before taking part in the 14th annual event. Since 2005, Drop Zone has fundraised more than $1.3 million for Manitobans to be more independent and to take part in events like this.
LISTEN: Here’s how Drop Zone makes a difference in the lives of Manitobans
I was honoured to be part of the nerve-wracking, but extremely fulfilling experience, and might even try it again!