Imagine leaning over the edge of a 17-story building — 222 feet off the ground — back first.
Sussex Riptide Special Olympics Delaware coaches Marie McIntosh and Tony Gough did just that last month at the Special Olympics Delaware (SODE) Over the Edge fundraiser.
“Last year, I went down for the first time, and he decided not to steal my thunder. It was cutsie,” said McIntosh of Gough. “He thought, ‘Well, she should do it without me.’ This year, we decided to do it together, because I wanted to show him I could beat him, and I did. I was down first!”
Each participant registers with a $50 deposit to reserve a spot and then raises a total of $1,100 for the opportunity to rappel down the 300 Delaware Avenue Building in Wilmington.
The 2017 event included 86 Edgers raising more than $138,000, bringing the six-year total to 528 Edgers raising $896,000 for Special Olympics Delaware.
Gough used to be in a skydiving club and said he doesn’t have trouble with heights. McIntosh said neither does she, but she did take a while to reach the ground last year.
“Last year, it took me forever to get down. There’s a lip over the building… It took me forever to get over that last year — forever!” she said, adding that she was turned away from the building at one point. “The wind picked me up, took me off the building and turned me around — now I’m looking out and trying to turn myself around. This year, the same thing happened.”
The two plan to be involved with the event again next year — with McIntosh as an Edger and Gough as a rope-handler.
Going “Over the Edge” was just a drop among what the two have done this year with SODE.
“A lot of stuff is going on down here. It’s really cool,” said McIntosh.
Sussex Riptide is currently training for the 47th annual Summer Games, which will take place at the University of Delaware on June 9 and 10.
Sussex Riptide comprises athletes from all over Sussex County; however, practices for each sport are more localized, so as to keep the athletes and their families from having to travel far. Gough said they welcome athletes from the Ocean City, Md., area, too, as it’s right over the border.
The number of athletes on the team has increased recently, said McIntosh.
“When we first started cycling, we had six. Now we have 17. With the tennis, I had eight, and now there are 17 as well.
“Tony swears athletes follow me,” she added. “I got new neighbors last year. I’m introducing myself and I’m talking to Andrea, the athlete. She’s maybe 35. I said, ‘So, Andrea, were you ever in Special Olympics?’ ‘Oh, yeah!’ And we got her that way. Another athlete saw me with a Special Olympics shirt on.”
SODE offers athletes the chance to participate in a wide array of sports, including cycling, bowling, flag football, basketball, golf, tennis, swimming, track-and-field and more.
Cycling meets every other week at the Delaware National Guard’s Bethany Beach Training Site.
“It’s great what the National Guard is doing, because they have a closed track, so I can take all the athletes in there — it’s completely safe, there’s no automobile traffic,” said Gough. “We used to ride on Route 1, but it got to be too dangerous. The officers and the staff are very accommodating. The National Guard has been a huge supporter of Special Olympics.”
“They’re huge supporters of Special Olympics,” agreed McIntosh. “They come to the summer games and do the setup.”
The team also received a donation that allowed them to purchase three trikes for the athletes — one of which is being used by an athlete who recently took up cycling.
“We’re the only ones in Sussex County who have a cycling team,” noted McIntosh.
Gough, who volunteers alongside McIntosh and cycling coach Adam Rones, has even developed a reputation of hollering, “Pedal, pedal, pedal!” during practice, which the athletes laugh about.
He began a strength training class for the athletes after volunteering with the organization and seeing how they could benefit from the additional training.
“I watched all these athletes and thought, ‘They’re not too strong,’” he recalled. “They need strength training, all of them. I don’t care whether they’re playing tennis or swimming or whatever. I’ve been lifting weights and working out in the gym since I was about 10. It’s worked out really well.”
“Parents have told us they can see it,” added McIntosh.
Volunteers, supporters make a difference
Volunteers are always needed to help, she said, praising volunteer Mary Headman for always helping when needed.
“Since we came down here, she has been helping us. Whatever we need, she comes. She drives the athletes up to the summer games and stays in the dorm with them,” she said. “We always try to encourage our volunteers that, if they’re going to volunteer, to make the commitment, because our athletes really get wedded to you.
“I used to coach in New Castle when I lived up there... That’s been 13, 14 years ago? And when I go to summer games, they all remember me on the tennis court. It’s absolutely amazing. And if Tony’s not there, it’s, ‘Where’s Tony?’”
“They never forget you,” said Gough. “They look forward to seeing the volunteer every week.”
The community as a whole has been a big supporter of the SODE athletes, they noted.
“It’s especially amazing in the summertime because this is such a resort areas, and these enterprises are willing to give us access to their facilities at no charge,” said Gough.
“We couldn’t do the things we do without the community. We have Sea Colony always open to our using their facility. Then, in the summertime, when they get really busy, people from Bayside Tennis right across the street let us go there all summer long,” said McIntosh. “We have so much support here, and that’s one of the reasons, we think, our program is growing.”
Many area organizations and businesses, including Grotto Pizza, Bike Connection, Millsboro Lanes, Sea Colony, Bayside Tennis Club, Delaware State Police and the Ocean View Police Department, have helped the athletes along the way.
“For instance, during summer camp,” said McIntosh, “We need lifeguards, and Sea Colony gives us lifeguards. North Bay Marina gives us a pontoon boat.”
She also noted that the athletes themselves are giving back to the community that has supported them.
Athlete Justin Daisy volunteers at Brandywine Assisted Living and Atlantic Shores Rehabilitation & Health Center. Another athlete volunteers her time at Lord Baltimore Elementary School. Three athletes are working at Giant as baggers, while others are employed at Grotto Pizza, Harris Teeter and Walgreens.
The program has also encouraged bonding between the athletes’ parents, who McIntosh said now socialize together.
“They get together. As an example, Tuesday, after tennis, they’ll say, ‘Let’s go out and get pizza.’ Our parents — they’ve really forged a great connection, which I think is really, really great. Our parents are truly wonderful.”
The athletes themselves have also been able to become friends outside of practices.
“The really nice thing about this is these guys get to be friends and they spend time together not with us. That’s the coolest thing,” said McIntosh.
Following the Summer Games, athletes have the opportunity to apply to one of two camp sessions at Camp Barnes near Bethany Beach.
According to the SODE website, the camp features “opportunities for attendees to enjoy recreational and camp-type activities, including swimming, crafts, non-competitive games, fishing, crabbing and canoeing. In addition, campers have a chance to participate in a variety of traditional SODE sports throughout the three days.”
Gough and McIntosh, who both volunteer at the camp, said it is a wonderful experience for the athletes.
For the past few years, North Bay Marina owner Scott McCurdy has provided a pontoon boat and the fuel so that campers can take a cruise on the Little Assawoman Bay.
“Scott is wonderful,” McIntosh. “We gave him a plaque one year, and he hung it right up while we were there, right away… I’ll never forget that.”
“These are $70,000 boats — these are not inexpensive boats — plus the fuel. He pays for all the fuel,” said Gough, adding that the camp is great for the athletes. “It is nice that the Delaware State Police makes the camp available to us. They’ve made a lot of repairs to the camp over the years, as have the Lions Club.”
For a number of years, Gough has organized a motorcycle ride from Rommel Harley-Davidson in Seaford to the summer camp. The rides this year will take place Saturday, Aug. 5, and Sunday, Aug. 13, both meeting beginning at 4 p.m., with kickstands up at 5 p.m.
The ride is open to all — HOGS, Blue Knights, Red Knights, Legion Riders, Masonic Brotherhood, Hogs & Heroes — anyone who would like to participate. They do request a $10 donation per rider to Special Olympics of Delaware.
“It’s open to any motorcycle rider — Yamaha, BMW, Suzuki, it doesn’t matter — anyone who would like to come,” said Gough. “We ride in, have dinner with the athletes and let the bikes cool off. Then we bring them outside, they sit on the bikes, put the helmets on, turn the lights and radio on... I’ve been doing it for seven years now.”
“He’s so wedded to it now. Tony has taken over so much,” said McIntosh of Gough’s commitment to Special Olympics.
The two, who met nine years ago, initially became involved in Special Olympics through their work in education.
“I was a special-education teacher, and I was a swimming coach at Newark High. At that time, in ’75, they already had Blue-Gold,” McIntosh said of the all-star state athletic competitions held each year that also pair the selected athletes with students with disabilities.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a Blue-Gold swim meet.’ I asked the special educators in the area and the special education office — which at that time was housed in the Hudson Center — if we could put something together. Then, I thought, I could just start volunteering.”
“I was a member of the Frederick County Board of Education for five years. I was chair of curriculum and had special education under my auspices. Then I got away from it for a while, but then when I met Marie… She’s contagious,” said Gough.
“If you’re with me, you’re going to be a part of Special Olympics. Otherwise, it’s a deal-breaker,” she said with a laugh. “It’s truly just a part of our life. It’s a passion.”
To watch video of McIntosh and Gough go Over the Edge, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AjMw2HvviI&feature=youtu.be. For more information about Special Olympics Delaware, visit www.sode.org.
Those who wish to get involved by volunteering with Sussex Riptide may contact McIntosh at email@example.com. Motorcyclists interested in taking part in the rides to the summer camp should email Gough to confirm, at firstname.lastname@example.org.