The One-Eyed, One-Armed Rappeller

phil-lilly-bd08 In 2007, Phil Lilly lost an eye, a hand and a few other body parts in a freak explosion while he was preparing chemicals for a fireworks display. It was a tragic accident that nearly took the life of him and his girlfriend.

Phil has been rappelling long ropes for some years now, and he was determined that a little thing like an eye and an arm missing would not hold him back. He worked hard during that year to fight his way back both mentally and physically. He had a goal. He was going to rappel the bridge in 2008. He practiced with his friends  at Extreme Rappels (XTR), and figured out ways to handle the long and complicated rappelling rack without fingers on one hand. He devised a system that would allow him to slow his pace or speed it up without having to move rack bars down with his fingers. Naturally, he also had to learn to balance and maneuver with only one eye.

At the XTR training session at Whitesides Mountain in the North Carolina Highlands a month before Bridge Day, he made the 600+ drop on rope, first tethered to another rappeller on the team, and eventually alone. With the exception of minor glitches, things looked pretty good, so he was set for the big day in October. Phil says he could never have made it that far without the help and moral support of all his XTR friends and teammates.

Bridge Day, 2008, arrived and Phil was put to the test. With nerves exploding and mind concentrating on the routines he had committed to muscle memory, surrounded by the team he knew he could count on, he clipped his safety to the 750-foot long rope, racked up his bars, released the safety and began to slide down the rope just as smoothly as could be imagined. He did it. He met his goal to rappel Bridge Day one year after the accident. How that is possible, I’ll never know.

I’ve told him before and I’ll say it again, he’s my hero.

Special Guest Post By:

Wendy Williams, 2009