Wheelchair user rappels 40 stories for Special Olympics

SEATTLE — Even as he carefully inched his way down the front of a 40-story building Sunday, descending in a titanium wheelchair using climbing ropes about the diameter of a finger, Dale Doornek took time to savor the view.

From nearly 500 feet up, it was nothing short of spectacular, with the Olympic Mountains on the horizon and ferry boats and water taxis painting a fan-shaped plume of white foam in the deep blue water of Elliot Bay.

“It was pretty incredible,” Doornek said, “being able to look around.”

His descent from the 1000 Second Avenue Building in downtown Seattle took 27 minutes, 42 seconds.

“The entire experience was fun,” he said.

About halfway down, he could hear the crowd below chanting his name and shouting encouragement. He responded by waving with his black-gloved hands.

Doornek, of Sultan, was one of 160 participants in a rappelling event aptly named Over the Edge but the only person to do so in a wheelchair. And he is the first person in Washington to accomplish the feat.

The two-day event, which ended Sunday, was a fundraiser for Special Olympics Washington. Its goal was to raise $250,000, enough to train and send eight Special Olympic athletes to events for a year, said Dan Wartelle, spokesman for Special Olympics Washington.

Two climbers — John Miller of Seattle and Aaron Lennox of Port Townsend — coached Doornek on his descent.

Doornek was grinning as his wheelchair gently touched the sidewalk and onlookers burst into applause. “Oh, man, it totally rocks!” he said. “I would do it over again.”

Doornek was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in 1994. He has worked hard to keep fit, strengthening his upper body by going to the gym six days a week.

“I try to keep healthy and fit,” he said. A healthy lifestyle is important, in a wheelchair or not.”

In the past, he’s participated in bungee jumping in Australia, hang gliding off Tiger Mountain near Issaquah, skydiving in Snohomish and parasailing in Cancun, Mexico.

Doornek was dressed in a green and yellow clown suit, joining other participants who eschewed traditional climbing gear for outfits such as a red Mighty Mouse costume or a powder blue leisure suit.

The toughest part of Doornek’s decent wasn’t the point at which his wheelchair swung off the building’s roof and was suspended so far above the sidewalk, he said, but the steady, strenuous work of rappelling down the building.

“You have to get that flow down with the descender,” he said. “There are so many different safety devices keeping you in position.”

Doornek’s rappel was regulated by climbing gear that he would periodically squeeze to allow his wheelchair to slowly drop. A safety mechanism would bring him to a swift halt if the descent was too rapid.

“If you went too fast, you’d bounce,” he said.

And did that happen? “Numerous times,” he said. “You stop real quick and bounce.”

Doornek said that if his rappel down the skyscraper is seen as a pioneering act for someone with disabilities, “absolutely, that’s what we want.

“There are no limitations.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

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