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Kari Ross Valparaiso Ind.  is over edge about descend 27 floors 201 N. State Street Chicago Skyline Plunge! Sept.

Kari Ross, of Valparaiso, Ind., is over the edge and about to descend 27 floors at 201 N. State Street in Chicago at Skyline Plunge! Sept. 8 to benefit lung disease research. | Karie Angell Luc/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 12, 2013 6:11AM



The 50 brave souls who stood Sunday at the roof’s edge of the Wit Hotel in downtown Chicago had one goal — go over the side, 278 feet, 27 floors, straight down.

A portion of the sidewalk in front of the hotel at 201 N. State St. was sectioned off to accommodate those taking part in Skyline Plunge!, a Respiratory Health Association fundraiser event.

Those who chose to go down without stairs or an elevator did so to raise awareness and honor loved ones impacted by respiratory disease.

For Kari Ross, of Valparaiso, the descent was a special mission. Ross works nearby as a project manager for Leo Burnett, but on Sunday, career clothing was set aside for extreme sport gear and a helmet.

“I’m really excited to do this because my grandpa passed away of lung cancer from working in the mills,” Ross said of her grandfather Don Ross, who died five years ago.

Kari wanted to call attention to health concerns by industrial workers.

“I think doing this just brings so much awareness to men who do work in the mills and who do pass away of all of these respiratory issues, so I am really proud and happy to represent them,” said Ross.

For many, this was the first time they rappelled down a building. Some were adept at rock climbing, but navigating down the smooth glass of the hotel was something different.

There were also repeat participants such as Craig McClure, of Evanston, who claimed a four-peat.

“I did it the first time because it was very much outside of my comfort zone, and now I do it because it’s fun and it’s a great cause,” said McClure. “Through this, my awareness of respiratory issues has actually increased quite a bit because as I have been getting pledges. I find out, oh, so many people that I talk to, say, ‘Oh, I have asthma, my brother has asthma.’

“You know, there are just so many issues out there.”

McClure, who works at Allstate in Northbrook, was accompanied to the event by his partner of 19 years, Stephen Orechowski.

Sally Szablewski, a Naperville resident since 1984, stepped over the edge for the first time despite a fear of heights. With minimal hesitation, Szablewski, a nurse at Edward Hospital in Naperville, confidently placed her sport shoes on the ledge wearing the same harness and other gear required to make a safe leap of faith.

“It’s just an honor to be able to do this and I am grateful for all of the support I’ve had. Donations are still coming in,” Szablewski said.

“I am doing this to support the cause and to honor family members living with lung disease,” she said.

Szablewski and her husband Robert have two grown daughters, Joanna and Juliann, who also are nurses.

“This whole fundraising means a lot to me and a lot of people, “ she said. “I have a group actually out there, the Willowbrook Dancers, they’re a senior group that dances on Sunday afternoons, they got together and put in a donation.”

Michelle Defer, of Gilberts, participated in honor of her grandmother Jacqueline Defer, who had lung cancer.

“She died when I was about 12 years old,” said Defer, who wore a bright red shirt with her grandmother’s name on the back.

“Many people who donated requested that I rappel in memory of their loved ones too, so I made up this shirt and I put their loved ones on the back as well,” said Defer.

Defer was often asked to turn around to show others the names. With her gear removed after the plunge, Defer left with her goody bag plus another T-shirt, but the red shirt is a special keepsake.

For more information, visit www.lungchicago.org/plunge.



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