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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Everything Has Changed

For four years now, my life has revolved around the sport of slacklining. What is slacklining, anyway? It's an activity similar to tight rope walking. I found it at a climbing gym in California and quickly became obsessed with the challenge. I learned how to walk, tried walking my first highlines and started taking weekend trips for it all over California with new friends. Three months after I found the sport, I became the fourth woman in the world to walk one of the worlds most famous highlines, The Lost Arrow Spire. I was shocked and so excited about what I had found: a sport that challenges me both mentally and physically. A sport I can learn more and more about and become better and better at! And I did get better. I got to the point where people were labeling me "one of the best female slackliners in the world". How exciting! I had never been the BEST at something before. I mean, I have always been athletic, but had I found my calling?

About a year after I found the sport I started working for a slackline company called Gibbon, traveling the country teaching people how to slackline and promoting the company's products. For two years I lived out of a van and in hotel rooms with my boyfriend at the time, Mike Payton, a very talented and well known slackliner himself. We appeared on TV shows, news stations and magazine articles all to promote Gibbon Slacklines. Gibbon had come up with a metal structure to set-up slacklines so that we could provide demos indoors or in places with no trees to rig off of. The lines I was walking for demonstrations weren't what I loved anymore: they were short, extremely tight 2-inch lines on metal structures inside of buildings. It didn't feel like the sport I had fallen in love with. I  had fallen in love with slacklining not "tightlining". Mike and I would provide demos, sometimes daily, at retail stores like REI or Easter Mountain Sports. We would set up the structure and walk on it in the store, waiting for people to walk by and want to try it out (and then hopefully, buy one). Sometimes, the store would be empty but we had to stay there until our shift was over. Sometimes, I felt humiliated. It seemed that I had become a representative for a company that didn't understand the whole reason for the sport in the first place. Slacklining is an outdoor activity to participate in with friends. These weren't slacklines and this wasn't slacklining. It was about money now, not personal growth or challenge. I was living in a van, I wasn't able to push myself because I was always on the road working and I grew increasingly frustrated and yes, a little depressed.

After two years I quit working for Gibbon and I was able to really, truly slackline again. I walked long, loose slacklines in the park, highlined with friends and got side jobs to pay the bills. I wasn't stuck promoting something I didn't stand for anymore and that felt like an huge weight was lifted from me. Meanwhile, my mind was always elsewhere. How could I make this work? How could I make myself a success in this sport that is so small and still technically "underground"?  I got a few new sponsors that help me out with gear and promotion. I started promoting myself hard, writing more blog posts and making sure to get pictures and videos every time I went out. My mind was always running and imagining what it would be like to have "made it". I was actually considered for a handful of jobs involving slacklining (that Volvo commercial with a female highliner walking between two trucks, a highline job in France for a computer company, and a job on the Disney Channel). All of those jobs chose somebody else. I started to wonder what was wrong with me. Maybe I wasn't cut-throat enough, or attractive enough? I'm one of the top females in the world, what was the deal?

In every sport is a "community" and slacklining is no exception. Over the years, I became quite well known within the slackline community and received (and still receive) quite a bit of support, which I am so very grateful for. But like anyone in the limelight I also felt a lot of pressure to be something I wasn't. In my athletics I have always chosen to be safe and protect myself and my life over everything else. The "leaders" of the sport as of right now are pushing the limits in ways that I never could by free soloing lines (wearing no harness) or BASE jumping off of them. Although I have gotten so much support over the years, I have also gotten quite a bit of negativity and hate because I am not the most risky or daring highliner. Getting into the sport, I never wanted to participate in the "rat race" of the sports world, actually I avoid the rat race in my daily life. But, the nature of my pursuits sucked me into it like a hurricane and spit me out with a bitterness that I am having a hard time shaking.

Over the past 6 months I decided to take a long break from slacklining to clear my head and during that time period I had a lot of time to work things out. I started climbing a lot more, hiking, hanging out with my dogs, listening to music (which yes, sometimes includes Taylor Swift), working on my new relationship, and started an EMT course. Taking a step back I was able to see that I had been completely blinded by ONE thing. There is so much more to life than slacklining and I had been so immersed that I didn't see that for a long, long time. I'm not sure that I can turn my passion into my job and still maintain the love for it; the love I had in the beginning. Honestly, I miss the beginning. I miss what it felt like to walk a line I'd been working on for a long while: no pictures, no videos, nobody else around. THAT'S what I loved. I loved what it felt like to conquer a challenge even if nobody saw it.  Sometimes, I actually loved watching someone else walk more than I loved walking myself.

My dreams and goals have changed. I don't think that I can pursue highlining in the same way that I have in the past without losing the reason I do it in the first place. Ego gets in the way and takes over (and yes, we all have an Ego...even me). Sure, I'll continue to challenge myself, I can't live life without that. And if I get recognition I want it to be not only for my highlining skills and safe practices, but for my positive outlook and drive to be a better person overall. Over the years I've come across quite a few people would would push people down on their way to the top and it should never come to that. Is reaching the top ever more important than another human being? These adventure sports, there's a reason people do them. It's a phenomenal way to challenge the human body and mind and it feels euphoric to "cross the line" or "make it to the top". But when the reason we're doing it changes, so does that feeling.