By Theresa Gaffney
If you ask Tracey Sheak how she got involved with Over the Edge for Special Olympics, she’ll laugh, and tell you how she was quite literally “roped” into it.
Working at a law firm in Connecticut, Sheak travels often for work. For two years in a row, she participated in the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts Golf Tournament, sponsoring a group of firefighters. It was here that she met Boston Firefighters John Sarro and Bob Petti. When they brought up an annual fundraiser they did for Special Olympics Massachusetts, Sheak was immediately interested. She had always thought fondly of Special Olympics; her two sons, now grown, were actively involved with the organization as kids, volunteering as coaches and “huggers” for various sporting events.
She told Sarro and Petti that she’d love to help them out with a fundraiser. “I thought I was agreeing to be a hugger,” Sheak remembers.
She was soon shocked to find out the details of Over the Edge, an event where participants repel from the roof of a Boston hotel building. The idea terrified Sheak, and she hoped that Sarro and Petti would forget that she had agreed to participate. They didn’t.
“I was too macho to back down,” says Sheak. But she was definitely scared.
Learning about Sheak’s background in adventure, it’s surprising that she was so nervous about Over the Edge. Sheak has been a certified dive master for over 30 years. She does shark dives and is comfortable going into the ocean’s darkest depths. She even has experience rock climbing, but says that starting on the roof at Over the Edge was a lot harder than climbing up to the top and then going back down.
“This was a huge fear for me to overcome,” says Sheak. “But I kept thinking that it is nothing compared to what so many athletes have to overcome every day.”
Luckily, Sheak found that there was plenty of support from staff and volunteers on the day of the event. “I have met some of the nicest people ever,” she says.
Perhaps the strongest bond she has formed is with Special Olympics athlete Gregg Gallant. After Sheak’s first time going Over the Edge in 2014, she got an email from Gregg that thanked her for the support. Over the next year, they kept in touch via email, and finally met for the first time at this year’s OTE. Gallant came to support Sheak and watch her repel. Later, Sheak would go to one of his softball games. The pair have become great friends.
Overall, Sheak describes Over the Edge as an “empowering” yet “humbling” experience. Despite her original fears, now Sheak could not be more enthusiastic about Over the Edge. After raising $2500 her first year (two and a half times the minimum donation) she came back this year to raise $2000 more for Special Olympics Massachusetts.
She plans on participating again in 2016, and hopes to convince Gallant to do the same. Sheak’s advice to anyone who is timid about the idea of going Over the Edge? “Just overcome it. Just do it.”
Over the Edge is held each year at the Boston Hyatt Regency, and has raised over $840,000 for Special Olympics since it was brought to Boston in 2011.