Have you ever heard the saying “It’s never too late in life to have a genuine adventure?” These are words taken to heart by 84 year old John Stephen Koerner or better known as ‘Poppie’. Two weeks before Poppie’s 85th birthday, he will rappel down eleven stories from the side of The Studer Community Institute to raise money for The Arc Gateway.
When Stephen Rampersad, Chief Advancement Officer of The Arc Gateway, informed me that his children’s great grandfather would be participating the Over The Edge fundraiser, which quite literally send participants over the edge of the SCI building, I knew I wanted to meet him.
I gave Poppie a call and was immediately delighted to hear a heavy Long Island accent — I felt like I was talking to Robert De Niro or Joe Pesci from one of their New York movies. I introduced myself and we set a time to meet for a cawfee the very next day.
Poppie, Stephen and I met at the same building he will be hanging over the side of a few weeks from now. Not shy at all, Poppie immediately began telling us about his already chaotic morning that involved a busted bathroom pipe and his pet cat delivering a dead bird to him and his wife. From there we began talking old war stories and I come to find out that Poppie is an Army Veteran and his last rappel was almost 60 years ago at rappel school during the summer of 1963.
“At 23 years old I went in kicking and screaming because I didn’t go into the Army voluntarily, I was drafted. But, I gotta admit, in my short time in the military I probably did more than a lot of people would do in their entire career,” Poppie explained.
From completing rappel school to jumping out of airplanes and helicopters to later going on to get his commercial pilot’s license, Poppie had quite the laundry list of adrenaline enticing experiences. In my mind, there was no way he was feeling nervous about going over the edge. And I was right.
“You know it’s easy to talk about now, I’m sitting here on the ground floor, but having the confidence in the equipment is really what it is. I had the confidence when I was in the Army and all I had was a rope. This here? It’s safe. They could give you medications, knock you out and just lower you down. You wouldn’t even need to be able to do anything, this is just like taking a little ride,” Poppie described when I asked him if he was feeling scared at all. Cue Stephen and I breaking out into laughter.
“To me I found the rappelling easy I don’t know why. I had no sports background, I was always the skinny kid and the last guy to get picked for the baseball team,” Poppie continued to explain.
Besides the adrenaline rush of it all, the most important part of the day is the cause — to raise funds to support The Arc Gateway’s mission of empowering those with disabilities to live their very best life.
“That’s the main thing – the cause. And it’s good for you — something to add to your experiences. If you’re thinking about signing up, it’s a no brainer as far as I’m concerned. I hoping this will be an incentive to get all the old guys out!” Said Poppie.
By the time we finished our interview, Poppie had me convinced that even I could do this without fear, and I am someone with an extreme fear of heights. In 30 minutes, I got a very small snapshot of Poppie’s life and experiences, which indeed were more than many of us will endeavor in a lifetime. And here he is at 84 years old still excited to get out of his comfort zone.
“You know, there is a place somewhere along the way that will make me feel something. In fact, probably if I stood on the top of this building on the edge I would feel queasy, I definitely have that fear. But that’s what we hope for right, to feel something?” Poppie explained.
And he was exactly right. My interview with him was a great reminder to stay curious and be open to trying new things. Chances are trying something new will always open doors to enlightening experiences. Thank you for the interview Poppie and thank you for the reminder — I look forward to cheering you and Stephen on in a few short weeks.
Want to help send Poppie Over the Edge? Click here to donate to his crowdfunding site. More information on Over the Edge and The Arc Gateway below.
About Over The Edge and The Arc Gateway
The Arc Gateway’s Over the Edge event will take place on Saturday, April 22 and now is the time to start crowdfunding for your chance to rappel 11 stories from the Studer Community Institute building in Downtown Pensacola. Face your fears or feed your appetite for adrenaline in this once-in-a-lifetime experience, raising funds to support The Arc Gateway’s mission of empowering those with disabilities to live their very best life.
Minimum donation to Rappel is $1,000, which you can give as an individual or organization, or you can engage your friends and family members in crowdfunding and raise tens of thousands of dollars and take your support for The Arc Gateway to new heights.
This thrilling and courageous opportunity was designed as a way to honor clients of The Arc Gateway. If you are a person with intellectual and developmental disabilities, you encounter adversities every day. You must have the courage to try many things that may not come easily to you. Register to rappel or become a sponsor here.
~ Life begins at the end of your comfort zone ~