Climbing for a cause

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Daredevils rappel for Make-A-Wish

City residents took a controlled plunge off a 23-storey building this week to help make the wishes of sick kids come true.

About 70 courageous volunteers rappelled off the side of the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel Wednesday as part of the annual Rope for Hope fundraiser. At least two of them were from St. Albert.

Rope for Hope is a national event that challenges people to raise money for Make-a-Wish Canada by zipping down the side of a building on a rope. The cash helps grant the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.

This was the third time the event had been held in Edmonton, said Sophia Birchall, spokesperson for Make-A-Wish Canada’s northern Alberta branch. Nine similar events were held across Canada.

Many participants do their rope-runs in costume, Birchall noted. Wednesday’s event featured a couple dressed as Superman, several as Spider-Man, the Boston Pizza mascot (a big blue chef named Lionel), and a guy in a three-piece suit.

Unicon Concrete Specialties owner and former St. Albert resident Brett Desroches wasn’t in costume, but he did have a GoPro camera on his helmet. He raised $3,600 for his descent, which most of his co-workers said he was crazy to do.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said of rappelling off a building, and his company was already active in other fundraisers such as the Hair Massacure.

“Times are tough in Alberta and Make-A-Wish kids don’t have the opportunity to wait for the economy to recover,” he said, when asked why other business leaders should try this event.

“We’ve got to do what we can to get the job done.”

Paul Kane alumnus and MacEwan University student Katie Fitzgerald made the drop with Desroches, mustering $1,500 with the help of family and friends.

“I’ve been skydiving before and I’ve done rock climbing, so I’m kind of familiar with the activity, but I’ve never done it from this high,” she said, moments before the plunge.

“Pretty excited for it, for sure.”

St. Albert’s Sandra Prystupa raised $1,700 with her rope-run. An active fundraiser for the Cross Cancer Institute and the Heart & Stroke Foundation, she’s no stranger to heights, having skydived and zip-lined in the past.

“I have friends and family that have been touched by childhood cancer,” Prystupa said, when asked why she signed up for this event, and she wanted to give back to them.

Prystupa, Fitzgerald, and Desroches agreed that the most terrifying moment of their descent was the first step. That’s when they had to have half their feet and all their body leaning over the edge of the roof, with nothing but a rope and a release lever holding them in place.

Prystupa likened it to stepping out of an airplane.

“Once you do it, it’s pretty simple from there on in.”

Prystupa said she was motivated by the cheers from her two daughters below and the drive not to let people down.

“I just enjoyed the ride.”

Fitzgerald and Desroches finished their descent in less than three minutes.

It was pretty fast and a bit jerky, but otherwise fun, Fitzgerald said.

“I was pretty happy to have my feet on the ground again.”

Wednesday’s event raised some $152,427, said Birchall. At $10,000 per wish, that would be enough to help out some 15 kids. The national campaign had raised some $1.3 million as of Thursday.

Fitzgerald, Desroches, and Prystupa said they all planned to do this event again next year – possibly in costume, in Prystupa’s case.

“I would honestly go up there and do it again right now,” Desroches said.

“Maybe I can get my sponsors to double it up and I’ll just go right back (up)?”

Visit makeawish.ca for more on this event.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.