Bridge Day Behind the Scenes: Rappel Coordinator Benjy Simpson
We've looked at many different organizations and groups that work diligently throughout the year to make Bridge Day happen. Another one of these players is Benjy Simpson, who has been in charge of the rappelling and high line programs for 20 years. He'll tell you he’s learned a lot, it has been trying at times, but he wouldn't trade one minute of it for anything. In The Beginning
Rappelling off the New River Gorge Bridge had taken place before 1992, organized by a group out of Charleston. Benjy had wanted the chance to rappel off the Bridge when he got a call.
Cindy Whitlock, then director of the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce and organizer of Bridge Day, told Benjy he could rappel off the Bridge under one condition. He had to take over organizing Bridge Day rappelling, as the Charleston group wasn't doing it anymore.
Benjy jumped at the chance. However, he quickly realized that even with all his climbing and ropes experience, he was a bit in over his head. He immediately started studying and finding people who could help him learn what he needed to pull off a rappel of this magnitude. He also wanted to change the way the event was handled. He has accomplished both very successfully.
Through The Years
When Benjy took over the rappelling component of Bridge Day in 1992, there were 10 teams and 95 rappellers. In 2011 there were 23 teams and 311 rappellers who did a total of 860 rappels. Opening the activity up to more people was the biggest change Benjy had hoped to make; this change has been a success.
Benjy also wanted to ensure the event was as safe as possible. He's very quick to point out that he's had a lot of superb help in accomplishing this goal. He's welcoming only his third Safety Officer in 20 years next year, and this consistency is one reason his team has been able to do such an amazing job every year.
The rappelling and high line teams have organizers and safety team members who are crucial in helping Benjy ensure safety for the event. In the 12 years he has managed the high line, there has never been an injury. In fact, there’s only been one injury in the 20 years of rappelling. That's a safety statistic Benjy is very proud of.
Benjy has signed on to organize rappelling and high line on Bridge Day for three more years. When that’s over, Benji says he'll really be considering passing the torch to someone else. He loves doing it, has had a great time, and met tons of wonderful and unique people over the years, but he thinks it’s about time to enjoy Bridge Day from the deck. We bet he still slips down underneath for a bit, just out of habit.