Brandy Lail at the front desk probably said it best: “Watching you rappel down that building was both terrific and terrifying.” I wouldn’t call myself an adrenaline junkie but Over the Edge was right up there among the most exciting yet frightening things I’ve ever done.
After a clumsy start when my legs folded like an auditorium chair I was able to refocus and form the perfect “L” with my body and lean back into a hammock of air. I locked the speed control device in my left hand and waited for the show to begin.
The show was WRAL’s Noon News and the start of Elizabeth Gardner’s first weather segment. Elizabeth, who went Over the Edge in 2012, led the live questioning with Michelle Marsh and Lynda Loveland. My goal was simple: to project a calm and positive attitude to the ordeal that would take me 30 floors down the face of the Wells Fargo Building in Raleigh.
Other than a quick three-story practice rappel in September this was my first attempt at the sport. The advice that everyone gave me was “don’t look down.” And I didn’t. When I did get a little nervous I remembered how important this was. WRAL helped raise a record $200,000 for Special Olympics with 180 rappellers gliding down the glass and concrete over two days.
Our broadcast on Friday was truly a team effort. Tony Gupton led the engineering cause. Tony rarely makes a mistake. That’s because he thinks of everything that can go wrong and prepares for it. Tony had seen a similar network broadcast recently and noticed that the rappeller’s audio dropped out about half way down. Tony’s solution was for me to wear two microphones with one receiver at the top of the building and other at the bottom. It worked ! I also wore two different ear pieces – again, to duplicate my communication with the station.
The WRAL team included Keith Baker who rappelled down the building next to me. Keith sported a camera on his helmet to capture the thrill and occasional panic of a newsman out of his element. Up top Ed Wilson manned his camera and Tony Patterson provided engineering assistance. The street level camera was manned by Tom Normanly. Tony Gupton orchestrated Over the Edge in a truck on Fayetteville Street. We also used a tall camera position back at the station to show a tiny silhouette of Keith and me rappelling. Everything worked to perfection.
If there was a hitch it was my sense of timing. I actually rappelled too fast for broadcast purposes. We started the trip down with the first weather report in WRAL’s Noon News and the goal was the end in the weather during the second half hour. I was zipping down at a rate of about three floors per minute. Producer Miriam Melvin asked me to slow down. So I stopped for two five minute rests and waved at the people inside Wells Fargo Building.
The end was sweet. On the 12th floor I could hear the sweet sounds from Wide Open Bluegrass. By floor five I could smell some delicious food cooking on the street and then came the thunderous cheers of the crowd gathered at the bottom. My wife, Cindy, rushed to give me a passionate kiss when I hit the ground. I was escorted to a podium where Keith Baker and I accepted our medals for making the descent.
My immediate thought was I wouldn’t mind doing this again or something else like this. Two days later I received a call from the Golden Knights asking me if I’d like to jump out of an airplane with the US Army’s crack parachute team. I told them: “You bet I would!”
WRAL-TV Anchor Bill Leslie participated in the Over the Edge fundraiser for Special Olympics NC on Friday, October 3, 2014.
Thanks to WRAL-TV’s Bill Leslie for this capcom story and to Bob Ayers & Megan O’Donnell for these capcom photos.