Going over the edge for charity

Times-Sentinel managing editor Travis Mounts begins his descent down the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Wichita as part of Access the Edge, a fundraising event to benefit Project Access.

By Travis Mounts
The Times-Sentinel

“Now put your heels over the edge.”

It was at that moment, standing on the ledge of the Ambassador Hotel, 14 stories above Douglas Avenue, that things got real for me.

I was on the edge of a building – with two ropes, a canvas harness and some metallic contraptions hopefully guaranteeing my safety – and it was my turn to climb down that building.

It can be a good thing, getting out of your comfort zone. Try a new restaurant or a new hobby. Go on vacation to a strange place. Meet folks who have different backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints. All of those sound like good ideas to me.

Suddenly, being told to step off the ledge of the hotel seemed like a step too far. My doubts were reinforced when, just moments into my journey down the side of the Ambassador Hotel, I slipped off said ledge and slammed into it, hip first, with the entire weight of my body.

How did I get here?

Ascha Lee of KMUW Radio rappels down the last couple stories of the Ambassador Hotel on Friday, Aug. 30.

My journey to the roof of the Ambassador Hotel started a couple of months ago when our newspaper group signed on as a media partner with Project Access and its Access the Edge fundraiser. Project Access is a nonprofit that coordinates donated health care to Sedgwick County residents who have no health insurance and fall within poverty guidelines. As part of the partnership, somebody from our office got to take part in Access the Edge.

I agreed to be that somebody, obviously without a full understanding of what I was getting myself into.

I’ve done some rappelling before. Granted, it was more than 30 years ago, and I literally was a fraction of the man I am today – nearly 100 pounds lighter. I was young, skinny, and had an entirely different perspective on my own mortality.

So on Friday morning, Aug. 30, I was standing on the roof of the hotel, all my safety equipment on, getting instructions on what to do. A few minutes later, I was standing under a three-legged metal contraption that held a pair of ropes and was itself strapped to various parts of the building. Three different people checked my equipment and then checked me. And then I climbed over the half wall at the top of the building and placed my feet on the ledge, 14 stories up.

At no point through any of this did I really begin to get nervous. Then came those words.

“Now put your heels over the edge.”

And that’s when things got real.

Having rappelled and gotten into rock climbing for a while, I had complete faith in my safety equipment. I knew how to rappel, even though the highest cliff face I had ever gone down was less than half of the altitude I found myself at.

None of that really mattered. I like to joke that I don’t have a fear of heights, just a fear of falling to my death, but that’s a lie. Heights do freak me out a bit, although with time I get more confident.

So after slipping and slamming into the building, I quickly recovered and started my descent. It went quickly, and I felt like I knew what I was doing.

On another rope to my left was KMUW’s Ascha Lee. As you can see in the accompanying photo, she looked like she had a great time. She started down a few moments before me, but by the halfway point of the building, I had passed her.

I got to the ground quickly enough that I was able to watch Lee descend the final few stories.

“I didn’t know it was a race,” she joked with me after our descent.

I didn’t either, honestly. Part of me wanted to get on terra firma as quickly as possible. But part of me was simply determined to look good after my inauspicious start. And there was a certain confidence in what I was doing, too, despite the pained look on my face.

Many volunteers helped make Access the Edge a success.

During my descent, I failed to look around (or down). I was very focused on my feet and their placement on the wall.

I saw the photos. It didn’t looked like I had fun at all. That’s not true. It was fun and terrifying at the same time, and gratifying when it was all over.

And painful, too. By the time I got to my car, only about 90 minutes after I first checked in, I had a large, red scrape high up on my right leg. By lunchtime, my leg was starting to swell. By dinner, the bruising was becoming quite visible.

Twenty-four hours later, I had a purple mark that was the width of my hand, and ran from my wrist to my fingertips. I’m sure I’ll still have this physical souvenir 2-3 weeks from now, but it will heal.

Getting out of my comfort zone was a good thing. It fits in with my efforts this summer to lead a healthier, more active life. Starting my first sustained effort at getting into shape since my high school days has resulted in much more than weight loss. My attitude has changed. I feel different physically and mentally, with new confidence and a renewed sense of adventure.

Would I rappel down the Ambassador Hotel again? Absolutely. Would I still have some fear? I’m sure. But I’ve faced down those nerves once, and I know I can do it again.

There were a number of other media folks and VIPs who joined many people who raised $1,000 or more to benefit Project Access. If you go to Project Access’ Facebook page, you will find many more photos.

The Access the Edge online fundraiser has closed, but you can learn more or donate by visiting http://centralplainshealthcarepartnership.org.