Rappelling event helps create opportunities, remove barriers

The 13th annual Easter Seals™ Drop Zone event took place Aug. 22 where people jumped off the Manitoba Hydro building, 22 floors (88.6 metres) high at 360 Portage Ave. in downtown Winnipeg.

All day, 72 teams of rappellers dropped in support of children, youth and adults with disabilities in our province who are assisted by the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities (SMD).

Allie Onslow (left) with her mom, Wendy Onslow. /PHOTO: Barry J. Kopulos

Allie Onslow had been wanting to rappel since she first met Rheal Lesage on the SMD Foundation Board in 2007 but she had to wait until she turned 18. Now, the pair – Team Unstoppable are raising funds for SMD.

Wendy Onslow, Allie’s mom, explained how Easter Seal’s Manitoba helped her daughter with many services and wheelchairs over the years.

Allie attended summer day camp where she tried zip lining. She also plays power wheelchair hockey through SMD.

“Allie Onslow was also youth ambassador for Society for Manitobans with Disabilities Foundation/Easter Seals Manitoba,” said Wendy Onslow. “Allie also plays baseball and is a member of the WIN N TRAK Model Train club and has participated in the Manitoba Marathon.”

Wendy also noted, “Allie Onslow asked her pal Rheal Lesage to rappel with her. He came out of retirement just for her.”

Below is a video of Allie’s rappel that she completed with Lesage. Video shot by Barry J. Kopulos:

Keila DePape from the Winnipeg Free Press portrayed Onslow’s daring journey that helped make the event a success.

Other heroes made the jump, such as Judy Wasylycia-Leis, former NDP Member of Parliament, and SMD Board Member.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis and trainer rappelling down Manitoba Hydro Building. /PHOTO: Barry J. Kopulos

Participants were required to raise a minimum total donation of $1,500 for individual and $2,500 for teams of two or more before the event date. Special prize incentives were also offered to encourage more donations and creativity for costumes.

Tacten is an industrial company that supplied the safety gear for the event. /PHOTO: Barry J. Kopulos

“I was drawn to the event by friends, who like me are avid rock and ice climbers,” said Ray Hope.

“I volunteered with the team that outfitted the participants with safety equipment,” which included a harness, helmet and gloves from Tacten Integrated Industrial Services, formally Remote Access Technology.

Tacten is North America’s leading rope access and remote access training and service supply company. They specialize in confined space access work, high altitude industrial maintenance work as well as high angle rescue and rescue training.

“I found it very exciting to be on the street level during the day, with so much energy from the participants, their family and friends, and community in general,” said Hope.

“As climbers, we are used to dangling from ropes at great heights – having developed confidence in our team, our equipment, and ourselves. But, I still remember my very first rappel – very scary, but afterwards – as we say in the climbing community – I was stoked,” he said excitedly.

Event poster challenges participants to be all they can be. /PHOTO: Barry J. Kopulos

“The Drop Zone was a perfect opportunity to use my passion for climbing / rappelling to support the SMD,” said Hope.

“I have had two family members live with a disability, so I understand and appreciate the importance of the work that SMD does in our community to create opportunities and remove barriers. I look forward to the opportunity to volunteer next year,” he added.

“SMD Foundation/Easter Seals Manitoba is a member of Easter Seals Canada, and this event is being held all across Canada,” explained Gail Smidt – Board Chair of the SMD Alliance.

Smidt has been on the Foundation Board for 10 years, where she has been Chair for the last four years. She has also been on the Alliance Board for seven years, the last three as Chair.

The SMD Foundation is the fundraising sector of the provincial part of the organization of Easter Seals™ Canada. Funds raised help support the Assistive Technology Support Program where a member of SMD can apply each year.

Assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve a person’s quality of life.

The Assistive Technology Support Program can help reimburse 50% of the cost of an assistive technology device up to a maximum of $2,500 or the unfunded amount, whichever is lesser.

SMD tent at Drop Zone event. /PHOTO: Barry J. Kopulos

“I have been involved with Drop Zone since its inception, to raise funds for those who need help in their everyday lives,” said Smidt. “The Assisstive Technology program has become an invaluable aid to help make the children, youth and adults become mobile, and able to live their lives.”

Smidt explained, “I am a gerontologist, I study the elderly. I was volunteering at Seven Oaks Hospital for 11 years. That’s where I met Maria Marrone, in the Foundation Department, and we became very good friends,” she said.

“So when Maria became the COO, Chief Operating Officer of SMD Foundation/Easter Seals Manitoba, she asked if I would like to join her. I instantly accepted and 12 years later we are still together, working toward the same goal,” said Smidt.

Smidt and Marrone along with other volunteers did the ground work of the event ensuring things ran smoothly, namely that rappellers were safe, appropriate authorities had been notified, and permits as well as insurance were in place.

Safety gear table at SMD Drop Zone event. /PHOTO: Barry J. Kopulos

Before participating in the rappel, participants are required to attend at least one mandatory training session provided by trained experts at Vertical Adventures (77 Paramount Rd). The training was 1.5 hours in length.

Safety gear. /PHOTO: Barry J. Kopulos

The day of the big rappel, participants went through a review of the safety steps. Everyone involved with the rappel had professional training and accreditation and every effort was made by organizers to ensure participants were safe.

Participants were guided by specialized experts from Tacten. Their safety training programs and safety record are based on the use of IRATA certified professionals only.

Either the top or bottom rappelling instructor can stop when a rappeler needs a break.

If you let go of the rope, one of two safety systems will engage. Either the self-locking mechanism at the top will stop you, or the person at the bottom will brake for you. Depending on where you let go of the rope, you can expect to rappel 4 or 5 feet before the safety system engages.

Participants wore gloves to deal with the friction of the rope. It is advised to start rappelling slowly to gauge how much heat will be generated. Once again, good technique will reduce how much heat is generated from friction.

The rope is designed to hold 4500 kilograms.

List of Rappellers at SMD event. /PHOTO: Barry J. Kopulos

Organizers stressed that every possible precaution had been implemented to ensure safety. Certified experts, back-up safety lines, participant training, frequent on site safety checks and many other precautions were undertaken prior to and during the event.

“I hope that our enthusiastic and relaxed demeanor helped to instill confidence as the participants take that leap of faith,” Hope said.

Smidt added, “I was honoured to work along with many toward making Manitoba the first province ‘Disability Accessible’. The need of funds raised by SMD Foundation/Easter Seals Manitoba is an extreme necessity to provide vital programs and services for people with disabilities.”

All photos and video by Barry J. Kopulos


Living with a vision impairment, I use services from CNIB as well as other organizations that have provided resources, services and technology for my education and career.

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