James DeGregori, PhD (left)

On September 7, 8 or 9, James DeGregori, PhD, will rappel 29 stories down the side of one of Denver’s tallest skyscrapers in the annual “Over the Edge” event raising funds for the Cancer League of Colorado. DeGregori was recently named Deputy Director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center. In 2010, then-Deputy Director, Andrew Thorburn, PhD, participated in the same event. Being Scottish, Thorburn set a high bar (or a low bar, depending on your, ahem, perspective), by wearing a kilt.

“As a self-respecting Italian from Texas, there’s no way I’m wearing a kilt,” DeGregori says.

Thorburn points out that without the element of the kilt, DeGregori may not be exposing himself to the same risk.

“When you’re doing this in a kilt you have serious chaffing issues with the harness that I don’t think will apply to James. I’m glad he’s doing this but I don’t think it’s really comparable,” Thorburn says.

“When you’re doing this in a kilt you have serious chaffing issues,” says Andrew Thorburn, PhD, whose lab studies the complex process of cellular recycling known as autophagy.

DeGregori is still evaluating options for rappelling wardrobe, perhaps including a cycling outfit or western-wear. There was no mention whether “western wear” could include chaps and, if so, where this would position the outfit in relation to a kilt. The outfit will not include cowboy boots because Dr. DeGregori is worried that he might trip and fall off the top of the very tall building.

“I’ll be wearing some kind of running shoe for maneuverability,” he says.

However, balancing the factor of what is likely to be a minimally demanding wardrobe is a more demanding aspect of DeGregori’s psyche: “It’s not heights, exactly, that I’m terrified of, it’s ledges,” he says, pointing out that while he has no problem looking down the long slope of a high mountain, he refuses to look out a friend’s apartment window. “And now instead of looking over the edge, I’m supposed to jump over…” he adds, very bravely and with only the slightest hint of a whimper.

If he chickens out, DeGregori has agreed to donate $1,000 of his own money, a small penalty compared with the months, years or perhaps even decades of ridicule that wimping out would provoke from his co-workers at CU Cancer Center.

In 2010, Thorburn raised $2,300 for Cancer League of Colorado. Still with weeks before the event, DeGregori has already raised $1,900, placing third among all fundraisers in this early ranking.

“The real issue is not whether James raises more money, it’s going to be whether there are as many hits on the undoubted YouTube video of James doing this as there were of the guy in the kilt. I think the average YouTube viewer is more interested in a guy rappelling in a kilt,” Thorburn says.

At the time of writing, Thorburn’s YouTube video had exactly 2,779 views. Oddly, gauging the interest of what Thorburn calls the “average YouTube viewer” in the broader topic of rappelling in kilts turns out to not be an appropriate search for a work computer.

“It’s time to face my fear,” DeGregori says. “The Cancer League of Colorado has been so good to research here, in Colorado and even to my lab – they’ve supported early studies that have led to much larger awards. My appreciation for them goes beyond my fear of ledges.”

Currently the Cancer League of Colorado is funding ongoing work in the DeGreogri lab to explore how aging and smoking contribute to lung cancer development, and how to reduce this risk. Because Cancer League of Colorado is a 100 percent volunteer organization, 100 percent of all donations go directly to cancer research and patient support in the state of Colorado. The event hopes to raise $500,000.

“If I’m willing to go over the edge of a very tall building, you should be willing to give money to Cancer League of Colorado!” DeGregori says.

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