Rappelling, Boxing and More: 5 Ways to Get Moving and Give Back

When you’re staring 278 feet down to the corner of State and Lake, there’s no room for fear of heights.

But for a handful of participants who rappel down theWit Hotel—the one with the signature lightning bolt—each year, this exhilarating experience isn’t about the adventure. The Skyline Plunge!, started in 2009 and held twice annually, promotes healthy lungs and the fight against lung disease as a fundraiser for the Respiratory Health Association.

In May, more than 75 thrill-seekers descended the 27 stories of theWit Hotel, raising awareness and more than $110,000 for RHA’s lung disease research. The eighth Skyline Plunge! Chicago event, produced by Over the Edge USA, was considered a sold out event, with the number of participants at capacity. The fall event, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 7, is expected to also sell out, but registration will continue until capacity. Proceeds raised benefit education programming, including asthma education and anti-tobacco programming, and advocacy.

The event’s appeal is self-evident. “How can you deny the opportunity to rappel down a building in the center of downtown Chicago?” says Respiratory Health Association Senior Director of Special Events Gina Schwieger. “This is truly much different than being in a gym, going down a rock climbing wall. There’s nothing like having Marina Towers and the Chicago River and the Chicago Theatre all within your view, 278 feet above State and Lake.”

The surprise has been not the event’s success but its tendency to attract return participants. “When this first started, we were sold on the idea that this would be a bucket-list, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Schwieger says. “Over the years, we’ve been surprised to see that people are coming back, not twice, but even three times.”

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“It’s sort of a bonding experience,” Schwieger adds. “[People] come back [because] they end up having a friend or a family member who they’ve talked about the experience with, and before you know it, that person wishes to do it.” Skyline Plunge! is designed as a buddy rappel, with two ropes arranged side-by-side. Recently, ABC’s “The Bachelorette” featured a rappel date produced by Over the Edge USA, RHA’s partner.

Skyline Plunge! isn’t RHA’s only out-of-the-box fundraiser. In August, the organization will host its 18th CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, a ride to fight lung disease. The fundraiser offers four different levels: one day, 65 miles; two days, 130 miles; three days, 190 miles; or partial day, 18 miles.

“CowaLUNGa is a huge camaraderie,” Schwieger says. “It’s totally scenic—it gets you out of your traditional surroundings and takes you through beautiful scenery in Wisconsin. And, yes, you actually do see a lot of cows.”

CowaLUNGa traditionally draws a large North Shore crowd. RHA provides accommodations and extensive route support to offer all of the elements of convenience possible. This year’s event will begin in Gurnee on August 2, and continue through the weekend.

Registration for both Skyline Plunge! and CowaLUNGa also provides a professional fundraising coach, an individual from RHA who works with each event participant to identify potential donors, set up personal fundraising pages and guide the participant through fundraising. To register for Skyline Plunge!, visit the organization’s website. Registration will close when the event is full. Register for CowaLUNGa here. Registration will close 48 hours in advance of the event.

Former Make It Better Art Director Sarah Philippart proudly participated in May’s Skyline Plunge! Photos by Freddie Bledsoe.

Make It Better is also proud to be a media sponsor of the following nonprofits around physical activity:

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  • CircEsteem uses the practice of circus arts to unite youth from diverse racial, cultural and economic backgrounds, helping them build self-esteem and mutual respect. CircEsteem’s programs give students an opportunity to shine in the center ring, equipping with skills to overcome obstacles, achieve goals and foster confidence and cooperation. Learning from a professional circus staff, teens learn clowning, juggling, stilt-walking, ball-walking, unicycling, gym wheel and acrobatics. 2014 Summer Camp begins June 23. Find more information here.
  • Englewoods’ Crushers Club strives to be the strongest alternatives to gangs by redirecting youth to engage in positive behavior through boxing, mentoring, spiritual development and support. By arming youth at risk for negative behavior with the support and skills required to change their paths, Crushers Club provides the strength to avoid gang affiliation and improve school participation. To maintain eligibility for participation, Crushers Club members are required to stay out of trouble, keep up grades and school attendance and avoid gangs.