Nothing says familial bonding like rappelling down a 30-story skyscraper with your loved ones. That is exactly the challenge that mother-son pair Donna and Alex Jarmusz sought to conquer in this year’s Over the Edge fundraiser for Special Olympics North Carolina. For the two of them, the answer as to why they would rappel was easy. They wanted to show their support for Justin Jarmusz, Alex’s brother and Donna’s oldest son.
“Special Olympics has given our family so much,” said Donna. “I said we are doing this because Special Olympics teaches that athletes face challenges every day, so for one day, we can do the same.”
Justin, a 35-year-old SONC athlete, has been competing in Special Olympics since the age of seven. Beginning his athletic career with Special Olympics Illinois, he instantly immersed himself in golf, tennis, athletics and swimming. It was not an uncommon sight to catch him on the ice, playing hockey with a league associated with the Chicago Blackhawks for people with intellectual disabilities.
“Justin loves sports so much,” said Donna. “He knows all the referee calls for football, basketball and baseball. He knows the calls before they even announce them.”
Today, he competes in swimming, golf and is actively involved in a local hockey league run by the Carolina Hurricanes. As for Alex, he is right by his side as both his golf coach for Special Olympics Orange County and hockey coach.
“As a family, we have always been active in not only Special Olympics, but the entire culture of working with people with intellectual disabilities,” she said.
Before moving to North Carolina, the Jarmusz family helped found an organization called We Grow Dreams in Chicago. Their mission, still in action today, provides people with disabilities with advanced opportunities for job and life training. Their operation prioritizes caring for the environment and providing agricultural products to the community. Their operation has grown to expand five acres and 23 greenhouses, including a retail and wholesale garden center.
Despite moving, their family is still actively engaged in the operations of We Grow Dreams. The Jarmusz family tirelessly works to give individuals with intellectual disabilities opportunities to succeed. Justin wears that success proudly.
“He has won several gold medals in swimming over the years,” said Donna. “When he does win a gold medal, he will wear it for weeks. He takes his medals to work and, in his room, he has all of his medals displayed. All of this he was able to achieve through Special Olympics.”
Justin currently works part-time at Extraordinary Ventures in Chapel Hill. Extraordinary Ventures is a nonprofit organization that develops self-sustaining small businesses operating under the philosophy that all people, regardless of their abilities, are employable.
“He loves working because it gives him the opportunity to socialize and be with the community, talking about his favorite topics,” said Donna. Of those topics, Notre Dame sports are always at the top of his favorites.
“Every year, Alex and Justin travel back to Illinois to see Notre Dame play,” she said. “He wears Notre Dame clothing every day of the year, so he’s pretty easy to buy for.”
Donna and Alex would both agree that there is no athletic feat quite like going Over the Edge. As this was Alex’s second year making the same 30-story rappel in support of his brother, he was able to give his mother some guidance on what to expect.
“The way I’ve been describing it to people is that it’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time,” she said. “I thought I was mentally prepared until I literally had to go Over the Edge.”
When faced with the question of making the journey Over the Edge next year, Alex has agreed to a third year of rappelling while Justin adamantly states, “I’m keeping my feet on the ground.”