73-year-old Kelowna woman and 83 others zipline naked for breast cancer awareness

Seventy-three-year-old Helen Saunders takes flight during the ZipZone Naked 100 event Thursday. Saunders and 83 other women helped raise $15,016 for breast cancer awareness at ZipZone Adventure Park
Seventy-three-year-old Helen Saunders takes flight during the ZipZone Naked 100 event Thursday. Saunders and 83 other women helped raise $15,016 for breast cancer awareness at ZipZone Adventure Park's second annual event.
— image credit: Douglas Farrow / Contributor

Each of the last 23 years have been a gift for Helen Saunders.

In the late 80s, the 73-year-old Kelowna woman discovered a lump in her breast.

She claims that early detection is what saved her life, and she is quick to share her knowledge with other women.

"I knew there was something wrong with my body, but I didn't know what it was until I discovered the lump," said Saunders.

"Women need to learn to self-examine for early detection and to get to know their own body."

To help spread that message, Saunders took off her clothes, put on a harness and felt the wind against her skin as she soared 380 feet above the ground Thursday.

"It went so fast, but oh God was it terrific," said Saunders after her first-ever zipline ride.

"I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

Eighty-three other women also shed their clothes and joined Saunders for the ZipZone Naked 100 at ZipZone Adventure Park in Peachland.

The event required all participants to raise a minimum $100 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

In total the 84 participants managed to raise $15,016; Saunders managed to raise $500 of that total on her own.

The naked ziplining fundraiser started last year when members of SS Rodeo Rollergirls roller derby team approached ZipZone owners with the idea.

"We had some girls in our derby leagues that had cancer. . .so we decided to raise some money for a cure," said Shannon Grant.

Last year eight girls zipped in the buff and raised $1,500 for breast cancer research; this year SS Rodeo Rollergirls upped their contribution to $1,700 and the number of participants increased tenfold.

"We are intrigued that there are so many women out there that are willing to come out and give community support to fellow women who have cancer. We feel so liberated and excited—the energy here is amazing," said Grant, minutes before her team took off on the zipline.

Many of the women participating in Thursday's event had never been on a zipline before—with or without clothes.

Chris Harkness was one of the rookies taking part in the fundraiser. She said that the event showcases how far we've come in society.

"I'm really happy about how uninhibited the women are. There are girls totally naked and they're doing it for a good cause. There is nothing sexual here," said Harkness.

Kevin Bennett, president of the adventure park, said that although the total raised was slightly under the $20,000 goal, the event was a success.

"You set targets because that's what you aim for, but I don't think we fell short at all," said Bennett.

"We will definitely be doing this next year. I hope it gets bigger and better every year."

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