Reporter's notebook: Over the Edge for Special Olympics

2012-08-22T16:15:00Z 2014-08-25T08:08:48Z Reporter's notebook: Over the Edge for Special OlympicsBy ZACH BENOIT The Billings Gazette

The First Interstate Bank Tower, Montana's tallest building at about 270 feet, might seem like small potatoes from the ground compared to some of the towering skyscrapers across the country.

But don't tell that to me — or more than 80 people about to follow in my steps — while I'm standing eye-level with the Rimrocks on top of the downtown Billings building and looking to the street below — Hey! Folks really do look like ants from this high up — and getting ready to step over the edge.

On Wednesday afternoon, there's a magnificent, if somewhat smoky, view of Billings and the Yellowstone Valley from the roof, but that's the farthest thing from my mind.

I should probably explain what's going on here. On Thursday, the Montana Law Enforcement Torch Run is holding its second annual Over the Edge fundraiser for Special Olympics Montana.

The idea is that folks raise money, at least $1,000 each, for SOMT and when they hit that goal, they get the opportunity to rappel on Thursday from the tip top of the building, all 270 feet, to the ground below.

So far, 83 people or teams have signed up and organizers expect to raise at least $100,000, far outpacing last year's numbers of 52 people raising $70,000.

All of the money goes to SOMT and the athletes it supports, and it's a great event for the organization and downtown Billings, drawing people from all over to participate. The $100,000 will help about 2,000 of those athletes.

In an effort to get the word out, organizers gave media the chance to try it out Wednesday and, since I've covered Special Olympics Montana extensively in the past, they invited me.

Joining us were SOMT President Bob Norbie and First Interstate BancSystem Inc. CEO and President Ed Garding.

So, here I am, safety waivers signed and all harnessed up, my feet planted firmly against the uppermost edge of the FIB Tower, listening to a rope tech (that's apparently a fancy term for the guy who helps you rappel) guide me through my first steps down the building's western face.

At first, two things were running through my mind: the tried and true "don't look down" mantra and mental images of me smoothly bounding down the side of the tower like a commando in a 1980s action flick.

An hour later, after watching video of my descent, it's pretty obvious that I accomplished exactly half of that. I looked tight and a little nervous at first — probably because I was, thanks to an old fear of heights that I now realize I'm not quite through with — while taking baby steps down the first third of the building.

Eventually I got the hang of the counter intuitive action of letting go of the rope to slow down, but probably still looked like a grade-schooler trying to slow himself while going down a playground slide.

After Gazette videographer Lloyd Blunk, who filmed the whole thing, and I got to the bottom, we went back up to the 18th floor, where we grabbed Garding and Norbie for a quick interview as they were getting ready to take their turn.

As I took notes, my adrenaline was still pumping and my hand kept jumping off of the page, never mind what I wanted it to do, and the beginning of my notes pretty much much consists of a series of squiggly lines with a few dots over them.

"It's a great cause to support," said Garding, a few minutes before he got a look at the bank from outside, literally, his usual office. "It's more about the 2,000 athletes and all the volunteers than it is about the event itself."

Norbie told us that what makes SOMT, and Over the Edge, so successful is the passion community leaders and businesses show in supporting their efforts.

"How appropriate to do that with people who care so deeply about our mission," he said, referring to Garding and First Interstate.

After we talked, they asked for a little advice on what to do, since Lloyd and I were the first folks to go down for the day.

After telling Garding about the let-go-to-slow-down concept, all I could really think of was the one of my two goals I did manage to accomplish.

"Just don't look down," I said.

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

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