Naked bungee jumpers battle stigma, create community

Nigel Horspool just turned 65, and he’s bungee jumping for the first time in his life—nude. Horspool, a UVic computer science professor, will don his birthday suit in the name of mental illness on March 8. This marks the day of the eighth annual Naked Bungy Jump event in Nanaimo, one of the wackiest fundraisers put on by the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society (BCSS). Hosted by WildPlay Element Parks, the event offers a thrilling experience for people 18 years and older, to raise pledges for BCSS and show their support for people who live with mental illness of any sort.

A bungee jump has clung to Horspool’s bucket list for several years, and now that the opportunity presents itself, he’s taking the plunge. “I’m beginning to feel that if I don’t do things now, I never will, and [the bungee jump] is one of them,” he says. In Horspool’s case, jumping comes first, but the fact that the event supports the BCSS Victoria branch drove him to raise over $400 in pledges. Horspool’s department, housed in the Engineering and Computer Science Building, has helped in raising his pledges. A group of five people, made up of friends, family and colleagues of Horspool, will drive up to watch, but no one else has found the courage to jump (nakedness coming in second for concern). According to the sponsors, however, that’s exactly the point—to give a glimpse into the lives of people who walk around, daily, shrouded with any sort of mental illness or battling the stresses of stigma.

The BCSS Victoria branch provides vital services for people with any sort of mental illness. Regardless of the diagnosis, whether it’s schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, people receive support, information, and connections to resources. Hazel Meredith, executive director of BCSS Victoria, says it is an important event for two primary reasons, among many others.

“It raises awareness of schizophrenia and mental illness in general,” says Meredith in an email. “Schizophrenia is one of the most stigmatized and least understood of mental illnesses. Involvement by community also adds a real show of support.”

The fundraising is also a large component, as it allows BCSS, which is a charity, to “provide hope, help, and support for people with mental illness and families” who need them, according to Meredith. An anonymous donor will match all proceeds up to $15 000, making this BCSS’s largest fundraiser. According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in a hundred people will experience a schizophrenic episode, and two-thirds of these people will go on to have further episodes. Most schizophrenic episodes happen in the late teens and 20s. With a student body of around 18 000 at UVic, that means an average of 180 people at the university, for example, will experience schizophrenia in some stage. That’s about half a lecture hall in the Bob Wright building who may benefit from the love and support provided by BCSS.

Megan Neufeld, a fourth-year geography student, jumped two years ago and is going for her second bout of adrenaline on March 9. “As a student who’s low in funds, I don’t have a lot of room in my budget to support charities, but the BCSS is an organization that supports people for mental health . . . so I think it’s a good place to put my minimal funds.”

This event creates incentive for students who want to bungee jump and support the cause, as it’s less than half the fee of a normal jump, which comes to over $100 on a regular day. Registration for a nude leap is $35 online and $45 on-site for those who decide to jump last minute—a great deal for a starving student.

“It’s really nerve-wracking to jump off a bridge,” says Neufeld. “But doing it naked almost makes it easier to jump, because you’re dealing with two scary things at the same time.”

WildPlay Element Parks Nanaimo took over the event eight years ago, in 2007, when it ran under a different company as a free Valentine’s Day activity. The company decided they wanted to attach more meaning to the event, and chose BCSS Victoria as the choice charity. WildPlay’s Marketing Communications Manager, Heather Watters, says that WildPlay is always looking to make positive change in people’s lives.

“We see people facing their fears all the time, and discovering new strengths that empower other areas of their life,” says Watters. “With Naked Bungy Jump for BCSS, we can push people way outside their comfort zone and deliver a way more meaningful experience beyond the Park.”

WildPlay sent 231 jumpers off the bridge for the event in 2011. Over $45 000 has been raised in the past seven years of the event. “So we’re there,” says Watters, “ready to send 200 more people over the edge and bring widespread awareness to the subject of mental illness.”

When asked if he’s nervous about his students seeing him naked at the event, Horspool chuckles. “If I act silly in front of a class every day, then I have no issue with jumping naked in front of a crowd.”

Meredith, the BCSS team, and volunteers hope to provide one of the most invigorating fundraisers on Vancouver Island. The event offers food and coffee by donation, a story-sharing fire pit, and energy that comes from building community in the buff. Also, spectators are welcome (with a $15 donation) to watch jumpers fall 150 feet from bridge to creek, if the leap itself is not for them. With enough student participation, the event could outshine the total of 200 jumpers from last year.

 

To join Horspool and other jumpers on March 8 and 9, or to donate, go to wildplay.com/nakedbungy2014. 

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