It is an awesome feat for anyone to rappel off the 11-story Ruoff Tower in Lancaster. It’s an amazing achievement for Gina Baum.
“I decided not to rappel in the wheelchair, but rappel like anyone else would in tandem,” says Baum, who made the descent on a clear and cool morning last October as a crowd of onlookers peered up at the then 59-year old.
Was she scared?
“Nah,” says Gina with a small, nonchalant shrug of her shoulders. “I always wanted to see [Lancaster] from the roof of the building I live in. It’s always been a curiosity for me. I wasn’t sure if I was afraid of heights because I’ve never been up that high. That was kind of a gamble.”
Her goal was to raise money for Lancaster Health Center (formerly SouthEast Lancaster Health Services) because they provide her with health care. Founded in 1975, the center strives to deliver “high-quality and compassionate healthcare to all” regardless of economic status.
“That’s how it started, and I never dreamed I would raise enough; I had to raise over $900 and I did that in five weeks,” says Gina. One of her new goals is to help raise funds for the next wheelchair-bound person who wants to take the trip down the tower.
The October event, which may become an annual occurrence, was a team effort between the center and the group Over The Edge. The adventure sports company based in Canada expanded its fundraising efforts to the United States in 2008. They help raise funds for local organizations through events like the Ruoff Tower rappel event. To date, Over The Edge has raised more than $80 million for places like Lancaster Health Center.
Gina doesn’t limit herself to dropping off the roofs of buildings; she has snow skied, water skied, sailed, boated, and shot a crossbow.
“I do [most activities] with Adaptive Recreation and Sports. They’re an organization out of Baltimore that provides adaptive opportunities for those who cannot otherwise do the sport,” explains Gina, who has her future goals set to include skydiving, ballooning, and getting a tattoo. “I’m always looking for adventure. It never stops.”
Probably one of the nicest people I have met, I spoke with Gina in her Ruoff Tower apartment surrounded by photos of family and friends and in the company of her cat, Oliver.
“He doesn’t like more than one or two people in the apartment,” says Gina and smiles. The Revelo crew was too much for Oliver as he remained hidden during most of our interview. Gina welcomed us openly, cracking jokes and telling personal stories, like how she first realized she was different from other kids when she entered public education. It was her first brush with recognizing her own physical limitations and how society responded to her disabilities. Her family rallied behind her decision to turn limitations into challenges, challenges she wanted to succeed at the best she could. I quickly learned Gina was open to talk about herself not to show off what she had done in her life but to simply recount her experiences as a member of human existence.
This is the third time Gina has been in front of a camera telling part of her life story, so she is feeling, literally and figuratively, at home. When not adventuring she serves as a spokesperson for Lancaster Health Center.
“I just kind of do what they ask me to do,” jokes Gina. “Like jump off of buildings!”
Having attained a degree in counseling from Lancaster Bible College, Gina is also a volunteer at the Disability Empowerment Center in Lancaster where she started a support group and acts as a peer mentor.
“Basically, it’s to help people live as independently as they can and do the things they want to do. I’ve been through it already, so I want to help people who haven’t been through it. I also want to educate the public that people with disabilities can do anything they want to… with certain help,” says Gina. “There’s a need out there. If there’s a need out there, you help fill it; that’s how I was raised.”
Our talk over—and recommendations for good tattoo artists passed along—we made our way toward the door.
“In case you want to know, I have Muscular Dystrophy,” says Gina, as a passing thought for the accuracy of this story.
The muscle-weakening disease is part of her life and she treats it like the everyday occurrence it is for her. M.D. does not define her—and it definitely does not limit her.