Laurie Guichard was hanging off the side of Benson Tower in downtown New Orleans suspended by a rope 25 floors over the ground below.
The 53-year-old Norco resident has a fear of heights and had been dreading the day for months. She was asked to step onto the side of the building and descend. Her only support was a rope running through a harness attached to her body.
“I am very afraid of heights, very afraid. More than the heights it is not having anything firm underneath your feet and knowing that you are just hanging out there in the open, just waiting. I don’t know, maybe an eagle will come and get you!” Guichard said.
She was there as part of a fundraiser for the Special Olympics, which is a central part of the lives of Guichard and her twin sons, Joseph and Matthew, both of whom have Down syndrome.
Guichard is a Houma native who moved to St. Charles Parish when she was pregnant to be near her sister, but she ended up staying because of the school district.
When Matthew and Joseph were born, everything went fine with the pregnancy and labor, but five months later she found out her sons had Down syndrome.
“It was a shock. These are my only children and I thought this was just how children progressed. The doctor just said, ‘No, there is something wrong.,” she said.
At that point she and her husband, who passed away seven years ago, decided to put it in God’s hands.
“My husband just said, ‘Laurie we are going to give it up to God and He gave us what He thought was best,’” she said. “We never looked back and they are wonderful.”
The family had attended the ‘Over the Edge’ fundraiser for the past few years. It was at the urging of her sons, who are now eighth graders at Harry Hurst Middle School, that Guichard decided to take part in the event.
At first, Guichard told Joseph and Matthew that there was no way she would go down the side of the building.
“They said ‘try your best and you can do it!’ I said, ‘Do you really want me to do it?’ and they said, ‘Yeah mom, do it for us!’” Guichard said.
To be able to participate in the event, Guichard had to raise at least $1,000, but decided to set a goal of twice that.
To meet her goal she took to Facebook to attempt to raise the money, which she said came from all over and even from unlikely places and people.
“Mostly it came from my friends, but I had quite a few anonymous donations so I had no idea who that was. I have a cousin who lives in Wales and some of her friends gave. A friend on the northshore sent it out and reached out to other people who I’ve never met and they gave,” she said.
Most surprisingly, people connected to the New Orleans Voodoo arena league football team donated.
“We love football and we can’t afford the Saints tickets, so we go to the Voodoo games. A lot of the Voodoo players and the coaches gave and the owners gave, so that was very generous,” she said. “People are amazingly kind and very generous when it is a good cause and you ask.”
Guichard ended up surpassing her goal by $700 and raised the third highest amount of the day for a total of $2,700. In all, $60,000 was raised by 68 participants.
Joseph and Matthew participate in many sports through the Special Olympics, but it is the culture of the organization that they appreciate most.
“Everybody wins and you always go home with something. They also get to meet people who are like them. When we are there, we are the minority as typical people and they are so comfortable, there” she said. “Everybody is just happy and cheering. It is just wonderful. It is a way of life, essentially.”
She said the Special Olympics has done so much for her family that it was a pleasure to be able to help the organization.
“As a parent, it gives me guidance just talking with other parents and learning how they cope with certain behaviors or certain attitudes,” she said. “You are around people who are in the same shoes as us and you get to talk with different parents from different areas from the state and even the nation.”
So when Guichard found herself looking at the ground below from so high up, she did what she needed to do.
“It was great. I was very, very nervous and anxious for months and that morning it was just what you do next, you just do it!” she said.
Coming down from 25 floors up, Guichard said she made sure not to look at the ground below. However, when she was about halfway down she could hear her sons and the rest of the crowd cheering for her and it was worth all the effort.
“When I was about halfway down I could hear people calling my name and cheering and it was very exciting,” she said. “I kind of wanted to go down a little bit faster to be with them. They were so, so proud.”
Although the event is over, donations are still being accepted at the Louisiana Special Olympics website at www.laso.org.
|Laurie Guichard with her twin sons, Matthew and Joseph. The twins asked their mother to rappel down Benson Tower and Laurie followed through.|