published Friday, October 5th, 2012

Fundraiser kicks off Chattanooga's RiverRocks

Bride-to-be Meredith Lewallen rappels down the side of the SunTrust building Thursday as part Over the Edge, the River Rocks festival kickoff event. Lewallen will be married on Saturday and wanted to commemorate her wedding with a rappel.
Bride-to-be Meredith Lewallen rappels down the side of the SunTrust building Thursday as part Over the Edge, the River Rocks festival kickoff event. Lewallen will be married on Saturday and wanted to commemorate her wedding with a rappel.
Photo by Allison Love.
  • photo
    Laurie Stevens, right, participate in Maggie White's yoga class at the Tennessee Aquarium undersea cavern early Thursday morning. Thursday was the first of four classes being held weekly through the month of October. For more information or to sign up visit the Tennessee Aquarium events website.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

TODAY'S EVENTS

• Bike2Work Breakfast

• Over the Edge

• Rock/Creek StumpJump Vendor Fair

• Guided Canoe Trip with CA&NC Naturalist

• Animals All Around Us

• Shane Webb Clinic

• Kudzu Ball & Festival

• The 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival

For more information, visit www.riverrockschattanooga.com

The excited bride wears a long, white wedding dress, has her hair pulled back and is ready to take the plunge — literally.

Meredith Lewallen, 26, strapped a climbing harness on top of her wedding dress and chose a helmet instead of a veil Thursday afternoon when she rappelled over the edge of the 20-story SunTrust Bank building in downtown Chattanooga.

Sporting sneakers instead of heels, Lewallen slowly dropped 280 feet — held aloft only by three ropes, a harness and a slew of metal clips known as carabiners — as part of RiverRocks 2012's opening "Over the Edge" event.

The crowd on the ground burst into cheers when Lewallen — who will get married Saturday — first leaned over the edge.

"As soon as they saw the white dress, I heard a bunch of cheers and 'woo-hoos' and I thought, 'OK, I've got to go, there's no turning back,'" she said when she reached solid ground. "I was not a bit scared at the top and it was a blast all the way down."

The 10-day RiverRocks festival kicks off today and offers nearly 100 events for families and outdoor enthusiasts, including everything from hot air balloon rides to yoga sessions.

The festival has grown quickly since it started in 2009, RiverRocks founder Mike McGauley said. More than 4,000 people are registered for events this year and he expects about 50,000 people to visit the festival, he said.

Over the Edge, a fundraiser for RiverRocks and Boy Scouts of America, continues today, when about 70 people are scheduled to rappel the building. Each person donated at least $1,000 to secure a spot.

Before Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Ron Harr went over the edge Thursday afternoon, he said he felt as if he was coming full-circle.

"I have not rappelled in over 40 years," he said. "I used to do a little of this in high school, and it's one of the reasons I fell in love with Chattanooga."

Lewallen said she thinks walking down the aisle Saturday might be easier than rappelling down a 20-story building.

"I won't have as many things to maneuver," she said, still wearing her bulky harness. "So as long as I don't trip, I think it will be a little bit easier -- but probably more emotional, too."

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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