Waterford Group Chairman Len Wolman builds hotels from the ground up, but next week, he will see how it feels to go from the top down.
On Tuesday, Wolman will be among the 115 who are expected rappel down the side of the Hilton Hartford on Trumbull Street — one of three hotels in downtown Hartford owned and managed by Waterford — as a fundraiser for Norwalk-based Shatterproof.
Waterford is partnering on the event with Shatterproof, newly-formed, charitable organization that seeks to call attention to the problem of alcohol and drug addiction among children and young adults.
Wolman told me he urged his employees to participate in the rappelling event.
“I just didn’t see that I could ask them,” Wolman said. “I felt I needed to sign on myself.”
Wolman said he has no prior experience rappelling. He has, however, bungee jumped with his son off a bridge in New Zealand about five years ago, cajoled by his son into doing it. Wolman doesn’t know how far he jumped, but he thinks walking down the side of the 22-story Hilton — about 200 feet — may be more.
“As the time gets a little closer, I’m getting a little more nervous,” Wolman told me. “But I’m doing it.”
Wolman said he’s thought about his strategy for the 12-15 minute descent: “When I drop off the building, I’m going to look straight at the building when I go down.”
And how is Wolman with heights?
“It’s not my favorite,” Wolman said.
But Wolman said the challenge will be worth it, given what Shatterproof is trying to accomplish
Wolman said he has known Shatterproof’s founder and chief executive Gary Mendell for years. Mendell founded HEI Hotels & Resorts, also based in Norwalk. Mendell left the day-to-day operations of HEI, where he was CEO, to focus full-time on building the nonprofit Shatterproof but still remains an owner of HEI.
Mendell was moved to found Shatterproof last year, after his son, Brian, died in 2011 after a struggle with substance abuse.
After his son’s death, Mendell told me he was shocked to learn the statistic that 80 percent of those who are addicted become so before their nineteenth birthday. And there was no major organization calling attention to the problem, he said.
Mendell said the name Shatterproof comes from another statistic: 350 people a day in the United States die from alcohol poisoning or drug addiction, shattering their families, he said.
Mendell said he chose rappelling rather than the more typical walks, runs or bicycle rides to make a dramatic statement as the nonprofit launched.
On Tuesday, there will be three ropes down the facade of Hilton for event, running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. As of late Friday, there were 9 slots left. To participate, there is a $25 entrance fee, plus the requirement to raise at least $1,000 in pledges.
The event is run by a professional company, Over the Edge, which also provides training.
Hartford is the seventh location to host a Shatterproof rappelling event this year. Wolman and Mendell will go down the building at 9 a.m.
“This disease is such a dire disease,” Wolman said. “It’s so critical that something get done.”