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View from the top: Rappelling 14 stories down the B Hotel

"Just put your heels out over the ledge," says the woman, reminding me that I have ropes attached to me in six -- six! -- different places.

I cheat out about an inch, because this ledge is 14 stories above the ground, and my heart is racing. And the damn wind just picked up.

"Now, go all the way out to your toes, sit back and squeeze that red handle." And Rebecca, the ever-so-calm voice at the top of the B Ocean Hotel actually gets me -- me! -- to comply.

Next thing I know, I'm whooping at the top of my voice -- "Let's Gooo!" -- and laughing and taking in the marvelous view of the Birch State Park and Fort Lauderdale Beach.

Those weeks of angst about rappelling down a 14-story building? Gone in one breathless moment.

It's bigger deal for me than you'd think. A fear of heights (heights = death?) started after riding Kraken, the floorless roller coaster at SeaWorld about 10 years ago when halfway through I closed my eyes and just waited for it to end. Then I couldn't get on the Ferris Wheel at Six Flags, then not even those swings I loved as a kid. And when some P.R. folks called with a hot-air balloon ride offer, I couldn't even give it a thought.

But then I agreed to rappel off a 14-story building, all the time wondering...

What is wrong with me?

Today,  I'm one of seven "celebs" --their words, not mine -- rappelling down the B Ocean Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. On Saturday, about 70 others will do it, raising money for Gilda's Club, Fort Lauderdale's cancer support group.

My "Over the Edge" moment comes to a bad stop at about Floor No. 6, where the wind twisted me, the rope and the safety rope are a little twisted and suddenly, I'm just sitting there. Like at the top of a Ferris Wheel, a really big one.

But as I stop to take a breath, I also want to explain why I am strangely calm literally twisting in the wind above rock-solid concrete, wearing a helmet that our photo department every-so-graciously pointed out that "really won't do any good from 14 stories up."

There are people who have to endure worse. Personally, the last 12 months I've seen too much cancer: My mom died of lung cancer, a dear friend is battling ovarian cancer and my sister-in-law survived breast cancer. That's chemo, radiation and and staggering amount of angst wondering about what happens next -- not to mention puking, losing your hair and endless hours in a hospital.

So as I sit here dangling in limbo for a few unexpected seconds, I think about them. And realize this rappelling thing is kind of a metaphor. I can't accurately say how much pain and trauma cancer causes -- and I hope I'll never know -- but maybe if we make a darned good support organization a little better by committing a stupid, meaningless act it will somehow help those patients.

And there's the Stanley C. Panther factor: The NHL Florida Panthers' mascot was among the invitees Friday. So if a furry mascot can do this, so can I. So there!

The Over the Edge folks guide me down to the bottom. My legs are wobbly, but I respond "Hell, yeah!" when asked if I'd do it again.

 OK, now. I'm even ready for Kraken.

 About 70 South Floridians who raised $1,000 each for Gilda's Club will rappel down the B on Saturday, it's from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 999 N. Beach Blvd. (That's the old Holiday Inn at Sunrise Blvd. and State Road A1A.). If you can't come but want to help, pick out someone you don't know and donate at and click on Gilda's Club.


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