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Sedona, Arizona, United States
~Adventure Seeker ~ Animal Lover ~ Lifetime Learner ~ Battling Lyme ~ Contact: emily.sukiennik@me.com

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My life: How did I get here?

When I was young I remember wanting to be so many things when I grew up.  Actually, one particular memory comes to mind.  In 5th grade I got an assignment in english class: What do you want to be when you grow up? My best friend Jenelle and I worked REALLY hard on coming up with our answers which ending up being: a Fairy and a Princess. Now, I don't think I've made it to Princess just yet but I'm pretty sure I'm getting close!

Jenelle and I being dorky 5th graders. This is kind of embarrassing but I just had to post it. Can't you imagine us as fairies and princesses?
When Jenelle and I turned 18 we got matching tattoos.  They mean "strength" and to me it's always meant "inner strength".  I got this before I started slacklining, but it's kind of perfect.
After all these years we've remained close friends. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding.


But in seriousness, what I really remember wanting to be the most was an Athlete. I remember watching the Olympic Games in my living room in North Tonawanda, New York and being astounded and inspired by what I saw. I'm not really sure why but I've always had an interested in athletics; I think I get it from my Dad who was always encouraging me to be active. At one time, I was very interested in gymnastics (inspired by the olympics) and began having neighborhood "competitions" that my father would judge. Who had the best cartwheel? The best round-off? Dad would always say "Remember to point your toes, girls!" I loved being outside and practicing with my sister and the neighborhood kids; it was one of my favorite things. I remember it so fondly that I sometimes wonder why I didn't persue gymnastics further. Instead, I played almost every team sport under the sun: baseball, softball, soccer, ice hockey, lacrosse, track and field and most importantly I ran cross country. Sophomore year of high school my friend Melanie was on the Cross Country team. I couldn't understand why she would want to put herself through torture running for no apparent reason. By some miracle, she convinced me to join the team (I'm still not sure how she did it). The first few weeks were some of the most challenging and grueling of my life. I still remember approaching my coach, Barb Higgins, and saying that I just didn't think I could do it. But Barb being the coach that she was just wasn't going to have it. She basically dismissed me saying that I had no business talking to her about quitting. I pushed through a few more weeks of practice and soon I started to feel like running might be possible. When I joined the team I was running a 28 minute 5K and by my senior year my best time was 23 minutes. I made it into the "Top 12" out of about 90 girls on the team and I will never forget the feeling of accomplishing something I thought was impossible. For the first time in my life I had pushed myself to my limit and ever since then I've had a bit of an obsession with that.




My Dad, introducing me to sports from the beginning.

As a kid, Dominique Moceanu was my hero. I wanted to be just like her.

Me as an itty bitty ice hockey player. Thanks Dad for putting me on an all boys team, I don't think I'd be as strong as I am today without you pushing me like you did.

Here's me with some girls from my cross country team. We painted ourselves to cheer on our teammates at States. It was about 20 degrees out!!
After high school I went to college at the University of New Hampshire. I had a really hard time feeling content there as it was a HUGE party school. I got caught up in the drinking scene, which was something I never wanted to fall into, and my life started to head downhill. I wasn't proud of who I was and I had lost what I stood for in life. I decided to apply to be a summer camp counselor over the summer to get away from the things that were dragging me down. This job single handedly changed my life. I was hired at a camp called Kingsley Pines as a lacrosse instructor (another sport I played in high school). I swear the counselors had even more fun than the campers did! This camp offered everything: team sports, rock climbing, mountain biking, waterskiing, rope swinging, archery, and a HUGE "blob" on the lake to play on (see pictures below). I had the time of my life there, met some of the most influencial people of my life and really had the time to figure out who I was. I realized there that I truly loved being outside, influencing younger kids, being a positive role model and truly pushing myself athletically. That summer I ran almost every morning, learned to waterski and wakeboard, taught lacrosse for 3 hours a day, and sat around a camp fire almost every night of the week reflecting and connecting with incredible people. I made such great friends there that I ended up traveling to England and Australia to visit some of them. 

This was the view....so peaceful and sometimes I dream of going back!

Three of the best girlfriends I made at camp. Sterlynn, Julia, and Lynde :)

THE BLOB!

Me with some of my campers and my co-counselor, Bobbi Jo. I really miss being able to work with this age group!

In 2009 I made a big move to San Francisco, California. I had been floating from college to college and boyfriend to boyfriend and I decided it was time to make a decision for myself. Something inside me said "SAN FRANCISCO", so I listened. I took a road trip across the country and my Dad insisted that he join me. It was a great bonding experience: just me, my dad and my dog Belle. We stopped by the Grand Canyon for our first visit and it was breathtaking. Strangely enough I remember being a little bit freaked out by the height!



Soon after settling in, I was hired at a Rock Climbing Gym in El Cerrito called Bridges and that's where my life took a major turn. I met two people: Andy Lewis and Damian Cooksey who will always remain two of the most influential people in my life. At the gym there were multiple slacklines set up: pieces of webbing tensioned between two anchor points meant for training your balance. I had seen slacklining before at summer camp a few years back and remembered really wanting to get good at it. But back then there was always a line of counselors and campers wanting to try it. Here, I could practice every day and the boys happened to be two of the best slackliners in the world. That being said, I learned all that I could from them. Andy taught me my first tricks and Damian helped me train for my first highlines. I eventually learned how to rig my own lines and started taking my friends out. I'm pretty sure it became an obsession and soon, it took over my life.


Damian and I being silly. We always had so much fun, he's an absolute trip.
Training at Bridges for my first highlines. Damian had rigged up a highline "simulator" for me, meaning that there was a backup line taped underneath so that I could get used to the weight and feel of a highline. 

This was so scary for me! The highline was about 40 feet long and 100 feet high, between two redwood trees. Andy has the footage somewhere, which I kinda hope is never released :-P 
A few months later after successfully walking the Lost Arrow Spire Highline in Yosemite Valley, I realized that I had found something really special. Maybe I had found what I was meant to do? I began reflecting on my childhood. Memories of my younger years practicing gymnastics in the front yard started to make more sense. There is so much potential on the slackline and it has really become my own form of gymnastics. I'm so grateful to have found this sport, it's changed my life not only physically but to me it's a form of meditation. When I'm on the line nothing else matters. My anxiety slips away and I am free to  focus only on my balance, breathing and control. For me, being on the line feels like home.

My walk of the "Lost Arrow Spire" in Yosemite. This was one of the first highlines to be rigged and walked by Scott Balcom. One of the most classic highlines in the world!


For the past three years I have dedicated my life to perfecting the art of slacklining. There are three aspects to the sport: tricklining, longlining and highlining. I've really taken a liking to highlining and that's what I've been focusing on the most. As of right now, I have walked 60 highlines across the USA.  My number one goal is to combine all three apsects. I want to perform tricks on long and extremely exposed highlines. For me, this requires the ultimate control. I've been practicing on some shorter (and less exposed) highlines but want to take it to the next level. It's so exciting when I think about all the time I have to progress! Below are some favorite photos taken of me over the past few years. Enjoy, and thanks so much for reading!!