FORT RILEY, Kan. – Army Capt. William “Billy” Simpson learned from an early age to never give up on his dreams. With that always on his mind, his dream to become a soldier and a world-class wrestler is now a reality.
Simpson, a field artillery officer with 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division was recently accepted into the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program. He will receive the support and training to compete and succeed in national and international competitions including the Olympic Games, while maintaining a professional military career and promoting the U.S. Army to the world.
Simpson worked toward this his whole life.
“My dad was a wrestling coach,” Simpson, a native of Belleview, Tenn., said. “He made sure my brothers and I could wrestle by the time we could walk. Every time we would play a game or a sport around the house, it always turned into a wrestling match.”
As Simpson got older, his love for wrestling grew -- to the point he begged his father to let him compete.
“When my brother reached the age where he could wrestle, my father became his coach,” he said. “I would be there for every match, just screaming and yelling for him. Afterwards I would ask my dad how much longer I had until I could wrestle.”
Finally the day came when Simpson took part in his first competition.
“I was in the sixth grade when I had my first match,” he said. “I went into the match more experienced and so I had much success. The thrill, excitement and full body exhaustion from my first match set the stage for me … from that point on, I knew I wanted to do this as long as I could.”
Simpson continued to wrestle through junior high and high school with the goal of one day becoming an elite freestyle wrestler, but he had an even bigger dream in mind: becoming a soldier.
“When my big brother said he was joining the military, I was excited,” he said. “On top of that, he received a wrestling scholarship from West Point. After witnessing this, I knew what my plans were going to be.”
Simpson was accepted into the United States Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point in 2004 on a wrestling scholarship. After finishing West Point Prep in 2005 he went on to graduate from West Point in 2009.
Simpson competed in more than 80 matches during his time at the military academy, but one match sticks out.
“My most unforgettable fight was during my sophomore year at West Point, he said. “I entered into the New York State Tournament as an unranked competitor but I made it to the finals where I was to wrestle the No. 10 ranked wrestler in the country.”
Simpson described the final minutes of the match, in which he was considered a major underdog.
“I knew I was going to have to give it my all, plus more, to beat this guy,” he said. “At about 30 seconds left in the match, I realized we were tied but I was on top of him. I decided to risk the competition by letting him up in the hopes of bringing him back down before the clock ran out.”
The match went down to the wire.
“We were going back and forth until we went out of bounds with eight seconds left on the clock,” Simpson said. “When we came back in the circle, I took him down at the last second and won the match.”
Simpson was named the outstanding wrestler of that tournament, but more success was ahead.
Upon graduating from West Point as a field artillery officer in 2009, Simpson received orders for the 1st Bn., 7th F.A. Regt., 2nd ABCT, 1st Inf. Div. He deployed November 2010 for a yearlong mission to Baghdad, Iraq, in support of Operation New Dawn.
A year after returning from deployment, Simpson decided he was ready to start wrestling again.
“I was a little bit hesitant at first but I spoke with my battery commander in October 2012 about competing again,” Simpson said. “I expressed to him how I have been dreaming for an opportunity like this. Before I could blink he turned to me and asked me if I felt I had a chance at winning it and I quickly replied, ‘Yes, I do.’”
With the support of his battery commander, Capt. Ritchie Rhodes Jr., and his battalion commander, Lt. Col. John Mountford, Simpson applied and was accepted to the 2013 All-Army Freestyle Wrestling Team. He eventually walked away as the 2013 All-Army Freestyle Wrestling Champion.
After competing and winning the All-Army title, Simpson asked his chain of command if he could apply to join the World Class Athlete Program.
“Capt. Simpson came to me and mentioned that he wanted to take his wrestling career to the next level,” Rhodes said. “He told me he wanted to pursue the WCAP program and so we filled out a list of pros and cons to fully evaluate the opportunity.”
The solution did not immediately present itself.
“When we compiled the list and it came out 50/50 split, the only two questions I had left for Simpson to answer were quite simple: ‘Would you regret passing on this opportunity when you get older’ and ‘Would you tell your grandkids?’”
The answer to both questions? Yes.
Immediately after receiving notification of his acceptance into the program, Simpson received permanent orders to the WCAP unit at Fort Carson, Colo., until 2016. Through Army funding, he will receive the best-possible coaching, access to training venues, and state-of-the-art sports medicine. He will also participate in top national and international competitions including the Olympic Games and national governing body amateur championships.
Simpson said the opportunity would not have been possible without the support of his chain of command. For their support, he will continue to represent “First Lightning” by wearing the battalion T-shirts as much as he can.
“There is no greater opportunity than to be able to do what I love,” Simpson said. “The Army has given me the opportunity to remain a soldier all while training to be a professional wrestler and hopefully represent them in the Olympics.”