Paradise Valley ‘dream team’ goes Over the Edge in support of Special Olympics

Paradise Valley Independent – December 7, 2017
by Melissa Fittro

Twelve members of the Paradise Valley community — including a former mayor, police officers, and a school teacher — will be scaling down the side of a 27-story office building in support of Arizona’s 16,000 Special Olympics athletes.

Beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, Special Olympics Arizona is hosting the Over the Edge event, where members of the community rappel down the 385-foot CityScape building in downtown Phoenix.

Members of the Paradise Valley Police Department are taking their fundraising efforts to the next level, by committing to raise at least $13,000 for the event, and enlisting the help of others.

The Special Olympics is often the only place for people with intellectual disabilities to have an opportunity to participate in their communities and develop belief in themselves. According to the Special Olympics Arizona website, Special Olympics sports provides a gateway to empowerment, competence, acceptance and joy.

“I believe in the Special Olympics Arizona program,” Police Chief Peter Wingert explained of his motivation to repel down 27-stories.

“This is a great organization where over 95 percent of the funds raised go right back into the programs for the Special Olympic athletes.”

Fifty percent of people within the Special Olympics program are gainfully employed in Arizona, Chief Wingert says, whereas only 10 percent of individuals with intellectual disabilities not in Special Olympics have jobs.

“Special Olympics program changes a life, maybe even your own,” he said, in a Dec. 6 emailed response to questions. “It’s addictive to see the smiles on the faces of the athletes when they reach their goal.”

Repelling down the side of a skyscraper —- a somewhat uncommon event, even for the local police chief — will bring butterflies to your stomach, Chief Wingert says.

“The journey to the top of the building for the descent brings butterflies to the stomach and the first three steps off the side of the building are nerve-wracking,” he explained.

“After that, the journey to the bottom is fun and relaxing. The view from outside of the 400-foot building is awesome, the company of the team is great on the rappel, and the cheerleaders are enthusiastic.”

Chief Wingert and Patrol Lieutenant Freeman Carney participated in the event in years past. Their overall goal is to become the No. 1 agency per capita in Arizona for Special Olympics fundraising.

“Each team member needed to raise $1,000 to be able to go over the edge. $1,000 will support two athletes for an entire year,” Lt. Carney said in a Dec. 6 emailed response to questions. “Last year we raised $2,355 and this year with the additional team members, we have knocked that out of the park.”

Joining the police officers this year, in what has been coined the “Paradise Valley Dream Team,” includes:

Former Paradise Valley Mayor Ed Winkler
Paradise Valley Police volunteers Ellen Andeen and Rich Lyons
Paradise Valley Police officers Chris Hadley, Amy McGhee and Steven McGhee
Community members Maverick Gamez, Sierra McGhee and Jennifer Moore.
Paradise Valley police officer Steven McGhee says he is participating in the event to support his brother.

“I am doing it for my brother who is a Special Olympic athlete,” Mr. McGhee said in a Dec. 7 emailed response to questions. “I want to support him and a friend by raising the $1,000 so each can receive the services offered by Special Olympics for the next year.”

In total, 95.4 percent of funds raised will go to programs and services for the athletes. Special Olympics Arizona offers health education, healthcare referral resources, leadership opportunities, and life changing sport opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, Mr. McGhee says.

The department has raised nearly $15,000 for the event so far, and is still accepting donations throughout the year to reach their goal of No. 1 donor.

“Since each department’s fundraising efforts will fluctuate year to year, we believe if we hit $26,000 for the year we would be ranked No. 1 per capita. Any help will get us closer to our goal,” Mr. McGhee explained.

For most of the Dream Team members, this will be their first time going “over the edge.”

“More than anything the feeling is excitement because they’ve worked so hard to raise their funds and they realize it is going to a good cause,” Mr. McGhee said of the team’s feelings prior to the event. “We will be looking for new Dream Team members from our community next year to replace those who have taken the leap and gone Over the Edge.”

Local entities have also contributed to the cause, including generous support from local resorts JW Marriott Camelback Inn, Andaz, Hermosa Inn, Mountain Shadows and the DoubleTree Resort, Lt. Carney noted.

“People with intellectual disabilities encounter daily adversities, and they overcome those as they participate in these athletic competitions,” Lt. Carney said.

“We can help raise money for them as we step into their shoes and find in ourselves a portion of the courage they exhibit every day when we go down the outside of a very tall sky scraper. It is a great thing to be able to raise money for such a tremendous cause and then to participate by rappelling down a 27-story building makes it that much more thrilling.”

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