100 rappel down Phoenix high-rise for Special Olympics


by Christina O'Haver


Posted on December 14, 2013 at 4:56 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 17 at 3:32 PM

PHOENIX - About 100 people rappelled off a 27-story building in Phoenix Saturday morning to raise money for Special Olympics Arizona.

Each rappeller raised at least $1,000 before the event and gathered at a downtown high-rise to go "Over the Edge."

One of the people who showed up to descend the CityScape office building was Robert Rowland, who was injured in a rappelling accident 30 years ago.

While serving on an emergency service team in the Air Force, Rowland participated in a rappelling demonstration off a 300-foot-tall water tower in Ankara, Turkey.

The loading gate on one of Rowland's carabiner's snapped, causing him to descend rapidly and without control.

Rowland said the procedure in those situations is for the belay person at the bottom of the structure to take off running in the opposite direction to slow the rappeller's descent. But the belayer was new to rappelling and didn't run from the water tower.

Rowland crashed into the ground, spraining his ankle and injuring his hip.

He was on light duty for several weeks and never rappelled again -- until Saturday.

When Rowland heard about the rappelling event for Special Olympics, he decided it was the perfect opportunity to finally face his fear.

"They face challenges every single day of their lives, so I figured if they can do it every single day ... I should be able to do it for 10 to 15 minutes," he said.

He said taking the first step off the CityScape building was one of the scariest moments of his life, but he tiptoed down the 27 stories and landed safely on the ground.

Participants were not required to have rappelling experience, but they did have to raise at least $1,000 to rappel. That's how much it takes to support two Special Olympic athletes for an entire year, according to the organization.

Rowland said he raised $1,130 before the event and another $80 on Saturday.