Don’t Look Down

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Editors Nicole Lockwood and Joseph Catrone scale tall buildings for good causes in their spare time.

By Nicole Lockwood and Joseph Catrone

On July 1, brave participants took part in a first of its kind event organized by the EAC Network called Over The Edge, in which people agreed to rappel down the side of the Tower at Nassau Community College, the campus’ tallest structure, to raise money for its affiliated programs.

“We operate with about 70 different programs, ranging from working with children who have been abused and been in foster care, and we work a lot with the mental health and substance abuse populations, with the criminal justice populations as well as with seniors, so we have a very wide range of programs,” said Alena Jones, director of development and marketing for the EAC Network. “We have done typical fundraisers in the past, but we wanted to do something a little different and exciting as a new way to get the community involved and allow them to have an incredible experience while supporting our cause at the same time. This is definitely something you don’t get to do every day.”

The EAC Network, short for Empower, Assist, Care, is a Long Island and New York City-based social service agency specializing in aiding individuals in the areas of children and youth, family and community, behavioral health and criminal justice, seniors and the incapacitated and vocational services.

Editors Nicole Lockwood and Joseph Catrone

Editors Joseph Catrone and Nicole Lockwood had the opportunity to participate in the day’s event.

NL: The Over the Edge event, a play on the idea of being “over” certain issues the organization deals with, was met with hundreds of willing edgers, myself included. The following account reflects my recollection of the events that ensued the morning of and in the days prior. It all began with a seemingly innocent email.

Like most other days, when I arrived to work I sifted through my emails quickly, pausing momentarily for one I received from my editor-in-chief, in which the subject line read “Death Defying Feats,” and the body stated simply, “Anyone want to repel off of a tall building? It’s for journalism purposes. Details to come.” My interest was piqued.

Further details revealed that we would have the opportunity to descend down the Tower at Nassau Community College. Thanks to my limited knowledge of the campus and the terror-inducing height of the tower, I agreed with complete disregard for the literal definition of a tower. So did fellow Anton Media Group editor Joe Catrone, who is clearly just as bored and naive as I am.

JC: My only thought prior to my rappelling escapade was, ‘what on earth am I getting into?’ That was followed by, ‘maybe I can still get out of this somehow.’ But it’s as if I was meant to descend from the top of this building, and the stars would align so that I would have no choice but to go through with it. It was cloudy all morning, the threat of a thunderstorm-related cancellation a not-too-distant possibility, but the sun pierced through the clouds the moment I pulled into the parking lot. What a tease.

Nassau’s a big campus, I thought. Maybe I’ll get lost and won’t be able to find the building. But sadly, there’s nothing subtle or covert about the sight of microscopic people descending a man-made cliff. Why even bother having signs? I knew I was in the right place.

I met up with my coworker and we made our way towards a cacophony of voices, with one booming voice heard above all the others. Oh right, they’re going to announce us over the PA. I’d been warned about that beforehand, but for whatever reason, it never occurred to me that people would actually be watching me do this. Great, I thought, now my name will become synonymous with every graceless oaf who’s ever been hopelessly suspended in midair. Every journalist dreams of recognition for his or her work, but this isn’t exactly the sort of notoriety I’d had in mind.

We were told to sign waivers and wait to be called. I had always been taught to never sign a document without reading it, but this is one instance where I probably should have. Seeing “I understand these activities are inherently dangerous and can lead to serious injury or death,” in all caps, did nothing to alleviate my uneasiness. My cohort put on a brave face, remarking that this activity was supposed to be relatively fool-proof, but I felt fully confident in my ability to put that notion to the test.

NL: Everyone was all smiles as they handed us a waiver to fill out and a swag bag filled with a t-shirt, sunglasses, pens and other items detailing the numerous initiatives of the EAC Network.

Normally, I can’t be bothered to read much of what I put my initials on, but today I thought why not, which proved to be an instant mistake. I quickly realized the goodies were a feeble attempt to offset the realization that I may not make it out alive.

Keep in mind the following few sentences were in all capital letters, which naturally prompted me to read it to myself as though I were being screamed at, and post it to my Instagram story to give my valued followers a chance to say their heartfelt goodbyes.

“I understand that the activities are inherently dangerous and that I could be risking serious injury or death by participating in the activities…” Whoa. “…and that my participation in the activities is entirely voluntary.” This is debatable. “I know, understand and appreciate these and all other risks that are inherent by my participation in the activities…” I feel like there’s got to be a more fitting word that appreciate. “…and I hereby personally assume all such risks, whether foreseen or unforeseen.” I didn’t exactly foresee death when I woke up this morning, but it wouldn’t make for a bad story. I imagined what my tombstone might read.

Surprisingly, this statement, and the rest of the double sided paper outlining everything that could possibly go wrong, didn’t frighten me as much as it should have.

JC: After putting our belongings in a safe place, we arrived in the prep room. We had the chance to mingle with other climbers as we suited up in full gear: helmets, gloves, some kind of belt, pads and a series of hooks and straps. And in case there wasn’t a big enough crowd outside, a giant monitor allowed those of us in rappelling limbo a full view of each participant as they made their descents. There was even a mystery man in a chicken suit, coolly strutting his way towards the ground below. For the first time in my life, I wondered if maybe wearing a giant chicken outfit might help me to feel less ridiculous.

NL: Now it was time to enter the site of my foreseen death. After taking an elevator up to the top floor of the building, we reached the preparation room. In it was a table lined with harnesses, hooks and helmets, as well as a large television screen that was playing live video footage of the rappellers. At this particular moment, a man in a chicken suit was taking the plunge, serving as my only frame of reference for what I was about to personally endure, which again, didn’t frighten me as much as it should have.

When asked by those in the room whether I was nervous, I replied honestly that I wasn’t. That is until the chicken man himself disrobed and revealed himself as the staff member responsible for getting us geared up. Thankfully, the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” proved correct this time, and the chicken did a wonderful job of making sure we were all properly harnessed and ready to move on to the roof.

JC: Our group filed onto the roof for our final bit of preparation: a practice round. An instructor gave each of us the opportunity to get a feel for the rappelling mechanisms, showing us how to lower ourselves and how to unlock the brake. He then informed us that, if we got stuck, we should stick out both of our arms; the airborne equivalent of scarlet letter punishment, or a dunce cap, if you will. As scared as I was at the thought of moving down a building at any speed, my goal instantly became to avoid getting stuck at all costs.

NL: Upon reaching the top of the tower, participants were met by expert rappellers who were able to sum up the details of a 170-foot plunge with brief demonstrations in just a few minutes. The most important take-away—don’t look down.

The view from above revealed just how high up we really were. I made a joke about being able to see my house in Mineola (which I couldn’t) and no one laughed. I was unsure if I’m really just not as funny as I think I am, or if 12 stories above ground is not an appropriate setting for my brand of comedy. I’m going with the latter.

View from the top

JC: I found the demonstration helpful and the process of lowering oneself surprisingly intuitive, but I refused to let it go to my head. My coworker and I were supposed to rappel at the same time, and one staff member went so far as to suggest we race each other to the bottom. Unable to foresee a speedy descent that didn’t involve me plummeting to my demise, I politely declined his suggestion.

NL: After watching much of our entire group take their first steps over the edge, it was time for Joe and I to take our turns. Side by side, we were latched onto the cables and gave a seemingly confident thumbs up to the cameras.

JC: Without a doubt, the most frightening aspect was allowing my body to dip “over the edge.” The safety measures provided make it so that it’s virtually impossible to mess up, but regardless, the sensation is akin to a leap of faith, totally blind, and seemingly letting go of everything.

NL: With that, we were off—well, at least I was. It took Joe several minutes to maneuver the lever that lowered you down, but I waited for him like the loyal friend and coworker I am.

After that initial step, the rest was easier than it looked. The 170-foot drop breezed by, but there was enough time look at my surroundings and the people below. I probably let out a few unnecessary shrieks along the way, but I’m assuming I was up too high to be heard, I hope.

JC: Before I knew it, I was plodding laboriously down the wall of the building, as was my coworker, several feet below. She shouted what sounded like some words of encouragement, and I attempted to return the favor, only to find that she was quickly moving out of earshot. Needless to say, I was grateful that we hadn’t formally declared a race; I would have gotten smoked.

It may not have looked pretty, and I’m sure my technique left much to be desired, but I managed to find a middle ground between getting stuck and falling. I even willed myself to pick up speed about halfway down. Clumsy though my journey was, I felt a jolt of adrenaline with each miniature freefall, and didn’t even mind hearing the emcee remark how long my coworker and I were taking to reach the end.

Mid-descent, suddenly the waiver, the chicken-suited man and the fear of impending pre-approved death subsided. As I neared the ground, I was suddenly humbled knowing that I had been just one of hundreds of people who set aside their fears for just a few hours on a Saturday morning, all in the name of charity. Many Long Island residents are active within EAC’s programs and are more than willing to do whatever it takes to bring light to the causes closest to their hearts.

JC: With one last abrupt slide, I touched pavement.

I don’t think I’d ever want to go through the anxiety that preceded my adventure ever again, but I wouldn’t mind taking one more crack at rappelling. In all likelihood, I still won’t be winning any races, but maybe I’ll beat my old time. Of course, such an attitude would have been unthinkable before, but I suppose once you go over the edge, there’s no going back.  

They survived going over the edge and would do it again.

NL: When we had finally touched down onto solid earth again, we were met by a cameraman who asked a general question about how we felt. What I should have said was, “It was amazing to be a part of an event that was rooted in selfless morals, with an unwavering dedication to bettering the lives of others. The scaling the side of a building aspect was an enjoyable experience, but knowing that the event raised thousands of dollars for charity is uplifting.”

What I probably said was a statement bearing general adjectives like “fun,” “cool,” “high up” and “scary.” To this day, I have no idea what was said, but I am sure of the fact that it sounded neither compelling nor intelligible.

After all was said and done, a handful of people asked if it was something I would ever do again, to which I immediately replied, “Without a doubt,” and meant it.

This marked the inaugural year of the EAC Network’s Over The Edge event. Anyone interested in rappelling next year should call Alena Jones, director of development and marketing, at 516-539-0150, ext. 117, or email alena.jones@eac-network.org.

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