Rappellers descend First Interstate tower for Special Olympics

2012-08-23T14:45:00Z 2014-08-25T08:08:59Z Rappellers descend First Interstate tower for Special OlympicsBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Mimi Parkes peeked her helmet-clad head over the edge of the First Interstate Bank Tower and a round of cheers went up from dozens of people gathered nearly 270 feet below.

"I just kept telling myself, 'Mimi, focus. Focus,'" the 83-year-old Billings real estate agent said.

That focus got her to lean back and let the ropes do their work, allowing her to rappel down Montana's tallest building, at 401 N. 31st St., for Over the Edge, a Montana Law Enforcement Torch Run fundraiser for Special Olympics Montana (SOMT).

Nearly 85 other people joined Parkes for the all-day event Thursday. To rappel, they had to raise at least $1,000, and as of Thursday Parkes was the top individual fundraiser at $3,800.

Organizers expected to raise at least $100,000 from the event.

Some folks went down alone for the second annual Over the Edge, while others had a pal harnessed up on ropes next to them. Bob Norbie, SOMT president, took his second trip in two days down the building's western face.

"We've been able to fine-tune something that was already done so well," he said. "It's celebrating and done for all of the athletes and the people who support them."

Parkes lowered herself down at about noon with her son, John Parkes, dressed in a gorilla suit next to her. While she said she was terrified at the start, the pair seemed to have a bit of fun while going down, with John Parkes taking leaps and bounds down the building and waving, while his mother followed with smaller hops and more waves.

"I really enjoyed it, and John was hamming it up next to me, so that really helped," Parkes said.

John Parkes, who is also an SOMT board member, said the decision to go over was an easy one. With the 10,000 athletes SOMT supports facing their own challenges on a daily basis, he said facing this challenge for one day was the least he could do.

"It is such a worthy cause and, in fact, we all know how much it helps people out," he said. "We all recognize that Special Olympics engages people from all all walks of life, from the athletes to the public."

While Thursday's event was held in Billings — running until the 8 p.m. end of the Alive After Five concert series, held on the street below — Over the Edge is based in Nova Scotia and now operates in 100 markets in the U.S. and Canada.

Paul Griffith, president and CEO, attended Thursday's event and said the company was founded in 1994 and expanded to America in 2008 with the goal of raising $50 million in 10 years for nonprofits like SOMT.

"It's really about overcoming challenges and barriers and asking corporate America to help out," he said.

Throughout the day, people lowered themselves down the building —  some slow, some fast, some smiling and laughing, some scared out of their wits — and, for the first time ever, an SOMT athlete, Stacey Johnston, of Chester, took part.

For Parkes, it was also a chance to inspire others and teach her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that they can always accomplish their goals.

"This is a challenge but the biggest challenge is raising the money," she said. "I thought that maybe I could help other people go beyond their limits, no matter who they are, no matter their age."

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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