Lawrie McFarlane: Take a (naked) leap of faith for mental health

Ever thought about jumping naked off a 43-metre-high bridge with just a rope tied around your ankles?

If you plan ahead, the Victoria chapter of the B.C. Schizophrenia Society, called Mental Health Recovery Partners South Island, will happily offer you that opportunity at its annual fundraising event.

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But first, a head’s up. This is not a piece about nudity. I’m not going there.

And I’ve never done a bungy jump. I have no tolerance for heights — can’t even get beyond the second rung in a ladder. Everything you read here was told me either by people who have done a jump, or by staff with the society.

The event takes place at the Wild Play park about 10 kilometres south of Nanaimo. This year’s was on March 7 and 8.

The park is at a point where the Nanaimo river has carved a deep gorge. You can find videos of the bridge, and people jumping off it (fully clothed), on YouTube.

The routine goes like this. You climb a steep set of stairs to reach the bridge, then walk along to the jump point, midway across.

You sit down while the jump master wraps a kind of towelling around your ankles, and secures it with a form of binding. Then an elastic rope is attached and you shuffle onto a plank that stretches out some two metres from the bridge.

At that point there are two choices. You can jump head first facing the river, or you can go down facing backwards – though how anyone could contemplate the latter is beyond my ken.

The length of the rope is altered, depending on the height of the river, and the weight of the jumper. No-one under 90 pounds or over 300 pounds is allowed to participate.

You can, if you want, have your head ducked in the river, but most folks are stopped short. The recoil of the elasticated rope then yanks you back up again, nearly to bridge level, then down again, then up again like a yo-yo, until you come to a halt a few feet above the river.

A staff member rescues you by paddling out on an inflatable dingy while the rope holding you is slowly let down and you’re pulled on board. Then a short voyage to dry land, and your adventure is over.

What I find extraordinary is that people do this with no prior experience of any sort. I believe the highest diving platform in the Olympics is 10 metres and you don’t start your career there. You work your way up from lower levels.

But here we have folks as young as 18, (the youngest age allowed) and on one occasion in the mid-80s (there is no upper age limit) throwing themselves off a narrow plank 43 metres above a raging river without any sort of practice.

Moreover, while you might think this is the sort of thing that only wild young men would try, the gender balance is roughly 50/50. Apparently Vancouver Island is home to some pretty gutsy women.

And now the important part. Last year the event raised close to $60,000, both in fees and donations. This year, by an act of generosity, an anonymous donor will match whatever is raised, up to the first $40,000. A truly handsome gift.

Over the years, staff say they’ve taken in around $250,000 in total, all of it used to provide essential mental health services that otherwise could not be offered.

Which is to say, when next March is in the offing, consider dropping in on this event. You don’t need to jump; spectators are welcome for a $15 fee (though photography is banned).

If you do want to jump, you can pre-register at Wild Play Nanaimo’s website. If you jump nude, there’s no fee. It costs $129.99 to jump fully clothed, unless you’ve raised donations totalling $200, in which case the fee is waived.

But either way, this is a cause worth supporting.

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