A Chance to Do Something Different

Written by Julie Oltmann

Saturday, November 2 was not just another day for Teri Burtis. She’d been raising funds and awareness for months in support of her participation in the 2019 Over the Edge event for Special Olympics Maryland. For Burtis, a longtime Special Olympics supporter, volunteer, and family member, this was new. It was a chance to do something different: rappel down the side of a city building. She’s traveled, she’s run marathons, but never anything this extreme. She saw videos from the first year of the event and thought, “it doesn’t look all THAT bad.” She spoke to a few participants. She even volunteered at the event in 2018. And she made her decision… she was going to go Over the Edge.

Over the Edge – a self-described “adventure experience company with a passion for positive impact” – has been holding its fundraisers for nonprofits since 2008. The idea is simple, yet thrilling: participants agree to raise money in support of a nonprofit organization and are then given the opportunity to rappel down a tall city building. Special Olympics Maryland has held the event since 2017, raising more than $250,000 in support of its athletes over the past three years. The building of choice? Chevy Chase Land Company’s 2 Bethesda Metro Center, a 16-story office building in the heart of Bethesda that offers stunning views of neighboring Washington, DC.

Teri and Ricky

Participants choose this event for a variety of reasons. Some enjoy rappelling. Some are looking for a new thrill. But for Teri, it was more than that. It was personal. Teri’s brother, Ricky (right with Teri), was a Special Olympics athlete. He began competing in the mid-1970s, starting with the events offered at Summer Games. He ran the 50-yard dash, the 100-yard dash, and competed in the softball throw. Later, he competed in various aquatic events and bowling, which ended up becoming his favorite sport. When Teri took him to the local lanes, she was no match for his skills. “He beat me unmercifully,” she said. Ricky loved training and competing in Special Olympics Maryland’s sports programs – starting out in Kent County, and then in Queen Anne’s County when the family later moved. He was a proud athlete, showing off his medals and ribbons whenever guests would visit their home.

When asked how Special Olympics affected her family, Teri said that it was a way for Ricky to get out of the house and be active, something he otherwise only did to attend his specialized school program. “It gave him a chance to do something different,” she said. Teri accompanied him to his various competitions, and the whole family traveled to watch him participate in Summer Games each year, many serving as volunteers.

When Ricky died, Teri stopped volunteering. Three years ago, by chance, she received an email promoting a volunteer opportunity for the state kayaking championships at Washington College. “I used to live near Chestertown, and I liked kayaking, so I thought it would be fun,” she said. Her experience was so impactful that she hasn’t stopped. Since then, she’s served as a volunteer at Summer Games, Fall Sports Festival, golf, bowling, basketball, the Fort McHenry Tunnel Run, Over the Edge, and the MSP Polar Bear Plunge, to name a few. She’s even started fundraising for the 2020 Plunge, captaining a team called “Ricky’s Ladies,” comprised of a group participating in memory of her brother.

And that was her motivation to raise money for Over the Edge, too. Her fundraising page tells Ricky’s story and describes why giving to Special Olympics is so important to her. She did it well, too, raising nearly double the required amount and fifth-most among this year’s event participants. And she didn’t just stick to the typical email and social media appeals to fundraise, either; Teri employed some unique tactics. “I did odd bits of fundraising,” she said. “Things like decorating gloves and socks, pet sitting, a bake sale.” But it was the support of her friends that put her over the top. A close friend of Teri’s holds an annual yard sale in which she donates the funds raised to a charity or nonprofit organization, and this year, Over the Edge was the beneficiary. “The best part was that while we did sell some stuff, many people simply donated because it was for Special Olympics,” Teri said. The yard sale brought in more than $1,100.

Teri going Over The Edge

When November 2 rolled around, Teri was ready. She’d been working hard to raise money, of course, but she had also been mentally preparing herself to rappel. “I signed up as soon as I possibly could,” she said. “So I spent almost a year preparing.” She even picked out a song to listen to for motivation leading up to the event – Rod Stewart’s “Faith of the Heart.” “I sang and whistled all the way down,” she said. Teri said it was everything she expected… but that she’s glad to be on the ground. In all, she raised $2,650 in support of more than 8,000 athletes who currently train and compete in Special Olympics Maryland programs year-round and in memory of her brother.

Thinking back, Teri says, Ricky’s participation in Special Olympics became just a part of what Ricky did. But it all started with a chance. A chance to do something different.

You can find information about our next Over The Edge event at overtheedgemd.com.