DAVIDSON – The swoop of your stomach getting caught in your throat as you rappel down the side of a 23-story building is a daredevil’s dream. And that scenario will be Craig Culberson and Michelle McConnell’s slightly terrifying reality Oct. 12 as they maneuver down the side of the 447-foot-tall Fifth Third Center skyscraper in Charlotte. 

The duo has individually raised more than $1,000 each for Special Olympics North Carolina to participate in the feat dubbed “Over the Edge.”

“My mother’s not real thrilled,” Culberson joked. “My wife and son have said they’re going to take out an enhanced insurance policy.”

The nonprofit, based in Morrisville, provides year-round training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. North Carolina’s branch has more than 38,000 registered athletes who compete in 19 sports activities including alpine skiing, gymnastics and horseback riding.

Culberson, senior land development planner for the Town of Mooresville, got his first taste of SONC as a college student studying at UNC Charlotte. In 1980, the state’s games unfolded on campus. He and his friends volunteered at the event’s softball toss, and when Channel 9 news flew in by helicopter to cover the event, Culberson got his first bird’s-eye view of campus from a friendly pilot.

After graduation, he became involved in Civitan International and is now the president of Race City Civitan Club. The volunteer group is dedicated to community service, from collecting food for homeless shelters to building children’s playgrounds. Members are also dedicated to helping those with developmental disabilities and contribute money to an international research center that studies autism, Down syndrome and other disorders on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s campus. 

Mooresville High School’s Special Olympics program eventually captured Culberson’s interest, and he vividly recalls one girl he met there years ago.

“A girl came up, and she was in a wheelchair with virtually no movement. Basically, the way she threw the softball was her helper turned her hand over, set the ball in there, and she just basically dropped her fingers. I mean that was her toss,” he said. “But when she did that, she just about came out of that chair. I had to turn around and walk off for a minute. I can hardly talk about it right now.”

McConnell, an assistant exceptional children’s teacher at JV Washam Elementary School in Cornelius, received the “Over the Edge” link from a friend who thought it might suit her adventurous spirit.

She and her husband moved to the lake area 11 years ago from Lynchburg, Va., for his Bank of America job, and the couple now has four children.

Luke, their 14-year-old eldest child, has high-functioning autism, while their youngest 11-year-old adopted daughter, Mary, lives with cerebral palsy.

“It’s just harder for (children with disabilities) to get families,” she said. “This event makes me as a mom feel so good that so many people in the community do these sorts of things.”

Culberson agreed, relaying a story of a Special Olympics race where one participant fell and was helped up and brushed off by an opponent, who refused to run blindly past.

“Seeing them compete makes you wonder why you worry about anything,” he said. “That guy cut me off in traffic, big deal.”

Conversation around the McConnell dinner table now centers around one thing: mom’s rappelling outfit.

“My children are so excited,” McConnell said. “The debate right now is whether I’m going to wear a costume like a superhero cape or not. Maybe I’ll wear a JV Washam T-shirt for my kids at school. I haven’t decided yet.” 


INFOBOX: For more information

Up to 100 thrill-seekers, including Craig Culberson and Michelle McConnell, will participate in the Over the Edge for Special Olympics North Carolina 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Fifth Third Center, 201 N. Tryon St., Charlotte. Give to Special Olympics North Carolina by visiting http://sonc.net/give/over-the-edge.