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Deans Ron Friedman and John O'Connell head down the zipline at the annual Dons Picnic on the Lawn

Deans take friendly competition to zipline

Ron Friedman, dean of the College of Science, and John O’Connell, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, have been developing a friendship based on experiences since O’Connell arrived on campus in 2007. They first met on a committee working on a solution to a long-forgotten problem. The suggestion was quickly discarded, but the friendship stuck. 

Their experiences the past few years have included ziplining at of the annual Dons Picnic on the Lawn, the last Campus Kickoff event starting the academic year. In fact, the deans got in line with the more than 200 students who took part in the festivities on Sept. 7, whipping down from the 30-foot towner set up adjacent to the Science Mall.

“We’re setting the image for our students,” Friedman said before laughing. “I think you screamed more than I did. I was overwhelmed by your screaming.”

O’Connell emphasized he was not yelling in terror, but in joy.

“We’re very competitive,” O’Connell said. “This was just deans having fun.”

Which leads to the story about last spring’s human-sized hamster ball competition. Unknown to Friedman, O’Connell came out an hour early to practice his technique. Safe to say, Friedman got rolled during the actual race.

“It was a race, but it pretty much ended with me trying to survive,” Friedman said. “I did a lot more rolling.”

In fact, O’Connell climbed out of his ball to push Friedman across the finish line.

Three years ago, James Velez, director of Student Life, and his Student Activities Board started the ziplining event. 

“I thought it was a fun experience, something you should see on a college campus,” Velez said. “It’s really cool seeing all the students going down and enjoying the opportunity.”

But what the zipline really does, as the deans demonstrated, is build friendships. 

The first two student pairings to ride the line for this semester’s installment consisted of two freshmen, each with one who had done ziplining before, and another who had never tried it.

About an hour before the ride opened, Chelsea Pillow was looking forward to adding to her long list of zipline rides when she sat down next to Sonny Paige at one of the tables set up on the lawn. They had never met.

“My sister and I were just sitting next to her when we started hanging out,” Paige said. “I would have been a lot more scared if there hadn’t been someone else with me.”

At the top of the launch, Paige told the handlers how she hated heights, but admitted afterward she’d like to try it again. About 30 minutes later, she was back in line with Pillow, and this time Paige’s sister came along for her first try. 

Trevor Lemert said he’d tried ziplining before in Pennsylvania from about 300 feet in the air, while Isaac Eberhard said had recently gotten over his fear of heights during a Cedar Point visit and was ready for his first ziplining. They were the day’s first participants. 

“It was a little more fun than I expected it to be,” Eberhard said. “Looking at it from down here, it doesn’t seem all that tall, but from up there it feels like you are jumping off the top of a building. It feels way taller than it is.”

Which is why it always helps to have a friend flying alongside.