(NEXSTAR) – On June 16, Rian Kanouff set out to raise awareness for an issue he feels very passionately about. And he did it by stripping down to his birthday suit and jumping out of a plane — repeatedly — in the hopes of setting a new world record.
“The idea to break this record came from truly wanting to find a way to bring about awareness for something I believe is tremendously overlooked by society: mental health and suicide prevention,” said Kanouff, an avid skydiver and motivational speaker who has completed nearly 600 dives over the last four years.
Kanouff, from Omaha, Nebraska, said he was inspired to attempt the record-breaking skydives after losing both friends and family to suicide over the past 14 months.
“I lost a grandfather, a best friend, and a few more people in my immediate life,” he said. “Mental health is important. Making it socially normal to say something when you aren’t OK is important. Making it known that everyone has someone they can talk to is important. But for some reason, it’s not that easy to get everyone to listen.”
To get the message out, Kanouff arranged to confront his own vulnerability by attempting the record for most naked skydives — but the idea didn’t come out of nowhere. Nude skydiving, he says, is something that those in the skydiving community often reserve for their 100th jump — an achievement one of his friends was close to accomplishing before taking his own life.
In the process, Kanouff also aimed to raise money for Movember, a charity organization that focuses on mental health, suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer.
“Men don’t like to be vulnerable. That’s not a secret to anyone that knows a man,” Kanouff laughed. “It takes courage to be vulnerable at first. But after the push of initial courage … things get easier and easier.”
There was previously no record for nude skydiving, according to Kanouff. However, officials with the Society for the Advancement of Naked Skydiving (SANS) had set a threshold of 25 before they would consider him the record-holder.
To that end, Kanouff strapped on his parachute and prepared to jump out of a plane on the early morning of June 16, with no other clothing but his socks, sneakers and sunglasses. And he did it over and over again, until he secured the SANS world record on his 25th jump.
But then he kept jumping. And jumping. And jumping. By the end of the day, he achieved a total of 60 nude skydives.
“Once my parachute inflated on jump number 60… looking at the sky and the view, thinking about my friends that weren’t there, and why I was… I was slightly emotional,” he said.
Kanouff and SANS are currently waiting to hear from Guinness World Records about to Kanouff entering their record books, too. But in the meantime, he’s set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for his skydiving expenses. Anything leftover, he says, is going straight to Movember.
“I was elated … accomplishing what I set out to do, and the fundraiser, the awareness seeds that were planted. It’s truly an amazing feeling,” he said.