CHAMPAIGN – The Skyline Plunge, which had students, residents and members of the media rappelling down Illini Tower on Sunday in Champaign, was less of a plunge and more like a gentle descent with a great view.
The event raised money for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and the University of Illinois Sports, Tourism and Recreation Association. About 25 participants raised a total of almost $11,000 by Sunday to participate in the event. Participants collected pledges throughout the day Sunday, and spokeswoman Audrey Eisenberg said fundraising can continue through April 24. The goal is to raise $25,000.
I agreed this week to rappel down Illini Tower and write about it.
It seems like it would be nerve-wracking to step over the edge of a building (especially after the tragic story about the UI student who jumped a few weeks ago from campus high-rise Burnham 310). But I never felt like I was in danger, especially after being harnessed and double-checked by staff members of Over the Edge, a company that puts on events like these for nonprofit organizations.
I received instructions about how to go faster, slow down and deal with the "seat belt," technically called an ASAP, attached to an extra rope designed to stop me if I started going too fast.
During my descent, I realized that even if I'd been panicking or messing around, I still wouldn't have fallen. I felt totally secure.
One question I heard several times before my first rappel: have you ever done anything like this before? I'd participated in a team-building event on a climbing wall in college. I remember it as particularly mortifying because I lack the length of limb and upper-body strength to do well on a climbing wall. If I remember it correctly, my team members basically pulled me up the darn thing.
But after my one-story practice rappel off Illini Tower's mezzanine, I realized this was totally different. Gravity and the pulley-like device, called a stop, holding my weight did all the work. I basically floated to the ground.
During the actual rappel, the feeling was similar, although it was a little harder to get my breath. The view was incredible. I felt like I could see forever
The worst part: straddling the lip of the building's roof and then pulling my second leg over the side of the building. Once I did that, I controlled my speed by pushing a red lever on the stop. I started out slowly, which I was assured was normal. After I started descending, I realized I was glad the morning was overcast and cool – just the adrenaline of hanging off the side of a building had me a smidge sweaty.
After a while, it seemed like each story, marked by a shelf of concrete, came more quickly than the one before. I'd slow myself by easing up on the lever with my left hand, sometimes slowing with a "whoa."
As I descended, it seemed my torso stretched farther from the building, which seemed a tad scary because my feet felt far from the building. Staff members at the top and the bottom assured me it was normal and I was doing fine. I could hear them through a radio pulled over my left shoulder. I could also hear cheering from people working the event, standing at the base of the building.
One of those people was UI sophomore Katie Hastings, who's been helping to plan the event since after winter break and planned to rappel Sunday. She didn't give the experience much thought until this week. That's when the thought of her adventure started looming, she said.
"Getting here and seeing it is kind of terrifying and exciting as well," Hastings said, adding that she thinks it's important to participate.
The experience overall was fun, exhilarating and confidence boosting. Because after you've rappelled down 17 stories, you feel like you can do anything. Anyone up for sky diving?