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July 30, 2011

Pair of couples take 'plunge' during rappelling benefit for Special Olympics

NIAGARA FALLS — It’s funny how slang expressions for marriage include taking “the plunge” or “the leap.” Those marital expressions took on a whole new meaning Friday for two couples participating in the Special Olympics fundraiser called “Over the Edge,” when each pair rappelled the side of a 26-story building just before their lives were changed forever.

At the start of the event, Joe Dotterweich, owner of Bullshirts of Houston — one of the sponsors of the event — made the rappel in record time, he was told. He was so nervous about the proposal he forgot to worry about going over the top and down the side of the hotel. His descent took about five minutes, while most make it in about 13, he said.

Meanwhile, his intended, Debbie Andolina of Eden, was taking her sweet time coming down the glass-sided building. Her arms had tired quickly from squeezing the rope clamps that controlled the speed of her descent. Half-way down, she decided to just hang for a while and rest. Meanwhile, the television crews who had been alerted to the event, and friends and family were calling out to her to hurry.

“I was just happy to be done,” she said. She didn’t realize Dotterweich was proposing until he took the ring out.

“I was out of breath and in shock. I was flabbergasted. Of course I said yes,” she said afterwards, a two-carat diamond sparkling from her ring finger.

Another pair of rappellers went a few steps further later in the day.

Laurie Aubrey of Newfane and her Niagara Falls firefighter fiancé Mark Mundy began their wedding vows at the top of the casino hotel before descending 33 stories and finishing the ceremony with a kiss.

It was the bride’s idea to combine rappelling with her wedding, despite the fact that she is afraid of heights. She credited her new husband for encouraging her sense of adventure, as she has included kayaking and white water rafting with her husband, despite having learned to swim only a few years ago. When asked what inspired her to try rappelling, she said, simply, “Him.”

“He’s my best friend and I’ve never trusted any man the way I trust him,” she said.

All that love in the air didn’t detract from the excitement of the second-annual “Over the Top” event which was expected to raise more than $150,000 for the New York State Special Olympics.

Despite intermittent rain and sun, the event was only delayed for about a half-hour due to lightning near the top of the building, said Amy Neveaux, associate director of development for the Special Olympics in the state.

There were 120 people making the heart-stopping leap backwards over the roof of the hotel, their climbs overseen by a professional rappelling company, and volunteers from the area fire departments, including the Niagara Falls Fire Department and newlywed Mark Mundy.

This year’s event was even more successful than the first, said Neveaux.

“Last year we only had about eight weeks to prepare,” she explained. Friday’s event had new features including a VIP tent, live bands and a family fun area, all to benefit the state’s Special Olympics program which provides sports training and competition to more than 51,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities.  

“It’s a great day,” said Neveaux, standing in the sunshine.

It was also, most likely, an unforgettable day, not just for those who braved their fears and leaped over the edge of the city’s tallest building, but also for two adventurous area couples who really “took the leap.”


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