The Make-A-Wish Foundation sent Red Deer’s Anakin Suerink to Disney World in 2018, and now he’s paying it forward.
The 18-year-old raised $10,000 for the foundation by participating in the annual Rope for Hope event, which featured 24 people rappelling down the side of the 13-storey Stantec building in downtown Red Deer on Saturday.
“I just wanted to be able to give a kid their wish,” said Suerink, who has had health problems since he was born, including epilepsy, scoliosis and brain tumours.
It costs $10,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation to grant a wish.
Joe Hittel, the man who raised enough money to grant Suerink’s wish two years ago, participated in his third Rope for Hope this year, raising $50,000.
“I was worried that it might get cancelled all together (due to COVID-19) – that was my biggest worry. But I thought, whatever happens, I’ll be able to raise some money,” said Hittel, who always wears a leprechaun outfit during Rope for Hope.
The 85-year-old was the top fundraiser among all Rope for Hope events in Canada last year, with about $33,000, and he raised more than $14,000 the first year he participated.
Overall, he has raised enough money to grant nine wishes.
“Raising that much feels great. There are no words for it,” Hittel said, adding he has yet to decide if he will participate in next year’s event.
Hittel and Suerink were the final two to rappel down the building – this was the second year in a row the two have rappelled together.
“He’s an outstanding person,” Hittel said of Suerink.
Rappelling down 13 storeys was a lot easier this year, said Suerink.
“Honestly, it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as it was the first time. I just let myself enjoy it,” he said.
Suerink said becoming friends with the man who helped grant his wish is “beyond special.”
“I hope I’ll be able to meet the kid that I can give this wish to. That’s my wish right now,” he said.
Leanne Gullekson, the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s northern Alberta communications and marketing officer, said people involved in the nonprofit organization were thrilled to host the event.
“The outdoor component has allowed us to properly social distance, while we’re able to put on a fundraising event,” said Gullekson.
“This is going to be our largest fundraising event of the year, and it’s really critical we continue to raise the funds we need to grant wishes. It’s events like this that help us do it.”
The event raised more than $100,000 for the foundation.
Rope for Hope was originally scheduled to take place this summer, but was postponed due to COVID-19.
The Edmonton Rope for Hope was postponed until next year, but some participants in that event chose to rappel in Red Deer this year instead of waiting for the next one in Edmonton.