Architect deLeon recounts rappel down W Austin Hotel for Make-A-Wish

By: Juan deLeon
5 July 2016

In 2012, CTA project manager/architect James Foster rappelled down the side of Austin’s One American Center in support of Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas‘ “Over The Edge” fundraiser. Between February and June 2016, CTA Austin raised money to again support the program, and since the team met its goal of raising $1,500, the real payment came due June 11 — fulfillment of a pledge by architect Juan deLeon to rappel from the roof of this year’s locale, the 38-story W Austin Hotel. All money raised through this program goes to help grant wishes, which is fantastic news, but if the participant is terrified of heights, that’s when the story gets good…

CTA_post_MakeAWishOverTheEdgeI spent the week before trying not to think about it, but every other second someone would ask if I was “ready.” I really don’t know why I like putting myself in these uncomfortable situations. Heights = scary! The night before, I had a dream that I went to the wrong building and was 30 minutes late to rappel. And in the dream, when I got to the top of the W, Fred Armisen was my rappelling instructor. My nervousness kicked in right when I woke up.

My partner, Ben, and I got a cup of coffee and a snack (a.k.a the Last Supper), then headed to the W. As we were parking, we looked up at the others already rappelling down the building. “Oh! You just RIDE down!” Ben said, to which I responded with the biggest eye roll and side eye. We walked around until 10 a.m., then I finally went to the prep area, signed my life away, put on my harness and hooked my uncharged Go Pro camera to my helmet, and waited for our instructor at the service elevator alongside two nervous ladies and a third lady that appeared to be the Black Widow from the Avengers. She looked like she’d done this before.

As we waited, about 15 ladies who worked at the W, each carrying vacuums and various cleaning supplies, walked up and waited for the elevator with us. Apparently, 10 a.m. is peak room service hour. An elevator finally opened and we walked in — all 15 ladies with their cleaning supplies, two other rappellers and Black Widow, our instructor, and … me. The thing with service elevators during peak room service hours is the elevator stops. On. Every. Floor. To. Let. A. Cleaning. Lady. Out. And for some reason, during peak room service hours, it has to go all the way down to basement level three before it goes back up.

This uncomfortable, slow, stuffy, awkward elevator ride added a pinch of claustrophobia to my increasing anxiety. We finally got off the elevator and climbed four flights of stairs onto the Sahara Desert (roof). We went through “training” for about five minutes and I gained a bit of confidence. They sent me to the drop-off area and en route, I foolishly decided to look over the edge. By doing so, whatever confidence I gained must have fallen off the side of the building. Auto-pilot was fully engaged at this point as continued toward the drop-off. In the span of about five seconds, they interviewed me and I probably answered with something unintelligible, they re-super-tightened my harness to where I was being pulled down and hunched over, then they put me on the ledge of the building.

The instructor told me to put my heels off the edge, so I scooched back about an inch. “Heels off the edge,” he repeated. Scooch. “Heels off the edge.” Scooch. “Heels off the edge.” Scooch. Then he told me to lean back and I think this is when I stopped breathing. My descent finally began, inch-by-inch, as slow as I could go with my eyes straight ahead looking only at the wall. After a bit of time passed, I decided to look up and realized I’d only completed about a quarter of my descent. I’m pretty sure I made the crying emoji face. crying-emoji

I just kept focusing straight ahead, looking inside people’s apartments and judging their furniture choices. Some people have expensively bad taste. One elderly couple was visibly “over it” when I finally passed by their window. When I finally rappelled far enough to hear my friends, in sloth-like-motion I took my hands off the crank, turned my body, and waved at them.

About three-fourths of the way down, the wall pushed in so I was just hanging without anything to put my feet on. I began to rotate and couldn’t do a thing about it. Just spinning slowly, don’t mind me. I decided to keep going down as I was spinning and realized I was only about 30 feet away from solid ground. Thirty feet seemed like a short drop and a survivable fall…?

I don’t quite remember the last bits of the rappel; I just remember being on the ground, hugging friends and taking a picture, and then having a margarita in my hand. Regardless of the fear and anxiety, I think this was such a great experience for a great cause. Rappelling from the roof of the W: check!

Thanks in part to Juan’s courage, Make-A-Wish raised $652,447 through “Over The Edge” this year, enabling them to grant the wish of every child currently on their waiting list. CLICK HERE to read more about the program and watch their video about the 2016 event here:


  • Write a comment

    Recent comments

    • Shannon Christensen 2 years ago

      Way to go Juan! Heights are one of my fears too. Cool to hear your experience. Thanks for sharing!