Taking the plunge … in a dress
My stomach tightened as several buckles clicked into place.
The safety check echoed emptily in my ears, a collection of sounds completely failing to register through the fear.
"Ok, over you go."
I clambered slowly over the thin wire fence, balancing awkwardly on the few inches of metal platform that was the last remaining barrier before a 200 foot drop into the rocky stream below.
Disjointed thoughts flashed through my brain as the countdown begun.
"This must look ridiculous."
A grown man, standing on a metal ledge above a shallow river dressed in nothing but a green cotton school dress and a pair of running shoes. The harness was cinched tightly around my groin, providing additional information that nobody required.
"I hope the photos turn out ok."
Yes, because that’s obviously the most important thing to be concerned about just before you throw yourself off a bridge. The quality of the ensuing photos.
"What the hell am I doing?"
Finally a rational thought. Too little, too late.
The hands on my shoulders gave me a gentle push and I launched myself out into the void, a terrified scream being torn from my lips as I plummeted towards the rocks.
The things we do for a good cause, hey?
Along with 26 other people I was taking part in Plummet at the Summit, another impossible idea from the warped mind of Joel Runyon. Just in case WDS wasn’t quite awesome enough, we figured that we should all jump off a bridge (twice) before it started.
And so we did.
A little over a year earlier, half-drunk and high on excitement from the first World Domination Summit, I was talking to One Girl co-founder Chantelle Baxter at the closing party. From that conversation sprang the Do it in a Dress campaign, seeing dozens of people getting well outside their comfort zones in ill-fitting school dresses to raise money for sending girls back to school in West Africa.
100 more girls are now receiving an education in Sierra Leone as a result of that five minute chat.
For me last year the challenge was to run a half-marathon in that fetching blue number. Obviously I had to up the ante this year, so I thought I’d start with bungy jumping.
Quite honestly, I was terrified. That scream on the way down wasn’t due to excitement. Between the high-speed fall and the half dozen tumbling, nausea-filled bounces that followed, I wasn’t exactly loving every second of it. Still, at least the first jump had the advantage of not knowing what was coming.
After being hauled back up, subjected to the same quick safety check and pushed off again – backwards this time – I started to think that my uniform would soon be decorated with a brand new colour scheme.
And then, finally, it was over. On legs shaking with adrenaline I climbed back over the rail. My harness dropped to the floor and I almost followed it. The whoops of support from the rest of the group were much appreciated, my tongue finally unsticking from the roof of my mouth as I returned the cheers.
The day of bungy jumping was finally over, at least for me. My time in a school dress that weekend, however? Far from it.
Late on the final day of the conference over a dozen of us assembled outside the main theatre. As the thousand other attendees returned from their workshop sessions they were greeted by an unexpected sight.
Unsurprisingly it was the first time in a dress for the other guys, their initial doubts quickly turning into shared pride as people stopped to ask exactly what we were doing. Posing for the camera, we spread the word about One Girl to anyone who would stop to listen. Sometimes even stopping wasn’t a requirement…
The photo shoot over, we trailed into the main hall, dominating a couple of rows near the front in a chequered collection of red, green and blue. Chantelle was one of 13 attendees asked to share her story from the stage, and as she recounted the history of Do it in a Dress and asked me to briefly stand, I realised how far things had come in the last twelve months.
A year earlier the idea of getting up in front of over 1000 people in a girl’s school uniform would have filled me with dread. Now, it seemed almost like a normal thing to do. Those sort of fears had been entirely overcome.
The young women in Sierra Leone were not the only ones benefitting from this campaign.
Standing at a brewery with friends a couple of hours later and talking about the amazing finale to the conference – one hundred dollars given to each attendee to use to make a difference in the world – Dustin raised an eyebrow and asked a simple question.
"What would it take to get you back into that dress tonight?"
We were about to head to the closing party, and it seemed only appropriate to bring the campaign full circle. I kept upping the ante, and the small group around me kept reaching into their pockets. The idea took hold, Matt agreed to match everyone dollar for dollar, and soon messages were being sent out to bring dresses to the party for one final showing.
Dustin and I changed quickly, seizing our chance before the Bollywood dancers hit the stage. We prowled the hall in our dresses, asking people to donate anything they could spare to help send girls to school. I suspected that the WDS crowd might be a generous lot, but even so I was blown away by the never-ending stream of bank notes being stuffed into my glass.
We raised over $1000 in little over an hour, and with Matt’s contribution and some earlier donations, hit close to $3000 for the night.
Twelve more girls will be going to school this year due to the generosity of strangers that day.
If that wasn’t worth donning a dress and conquering a few fears for, I don’t know what is.
It would be fantastic if you’d also like to play your part in sending young women to school, either by donating or doing something crazy in a dress yourself later this year. It’s an awesome experience – promise!
[Dustin and Dave image via Armosa Studios]
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