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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My take on free-soloing

Being involved in Highlining there are approximately 10 questions that I receive on a regular basis. For example: "Have you seen the movie "Man on Wire"?, "Are you in the circus?" or "Do you do gymnastics as well??". The question that I've chosen to write about today is "Do you walk with protection??" and for the past 4 years my answer has always been "YES". Taking a moment and reflecting back on when I first started slacklining I was never particularly drawn to free-soloing, which is the term for walking a highline without any protection whatsoever. It just never appealed to me and to this day, it still doesn't.

Last year I was walking a friend of mine's tree highline and while he was down below messing with something and not paying attention to me, I free-soloed the line. It was approximately 20 feet high and 45 feet long and I felt very in control, solid and confident. I aced it. But when I got to the other side I didn't get the feeling that I expected I would. It felt more like "I'm SO glad that's over and I'm not sure I'd like to do it again" than "Wow, that was amazing". I know that I am very capable, actually more than capable, of free-soloing and I have a lot of confidence and trust in myself. But, here's the thing: it's not worth it to me. I realize that it's all about mind control but there are a lot more factors involved than just the mind. I don't want my life to come to a screaming halt because I slipped up or because the wind blew and I couldn't handle it. I love what I do and yes, I risk my life by just participating in it in the first place, but only to an extent. I use back-ups and wear a harness so if something does go wrong I have "another life" so to speak. With free-soloing, besides catching the line, there isn't another life and I value my life so, so much. 

I was just talking about this the other day with my boyfriend Mark, who is a BASE Jumper and Wingsuit Flier. We participate in very different sports but share the mindset that it's just not worth risking our lives for. We love what we do but we take every precaution possible to stay alive and keep doing it for the rest of our lives. For me, it's about longevity. I want to be that crazy 90 year old woman who's still rock climbing and highlining despite her arthritic hips and that will be because I didn't ruin it all in my 20's. 

Despite the fact that I don't choose to free-solo, I do use a "swami-belt", which is my version of free-soloing. Instead of wearing a regular harness sometimes I choose to wear a swami which I made for myself. It's reinforced two inch webbing that I wrap around my abdomen which is then connected to the leash. If you are to take a fall in this it's either going to really, really hurt or potentially break some ribs. For me, this is doable. My life is not on the line and it provides me with some extra incentive, just enough incentive, for me to push myself a little further mentally. I have never taken a leash fall in my swami and I don't plan to because I know that I have a strong enough mind. Like I said, it's my version of a free-solo.

Swami Belt ^

As an athlete, I want to not only inspire others but also truly live and represent my values. I don't believe that you have to risk your life to be an inspiration or even be the best. A lot of the athletes that I truly admire are athletes that stand for something and pave their own path. For example, my friend Nick Williamson, also known as "Sticky Nick" who grew up here in Moab. I'm inspired by him because he is completely in love with climbing. When I watch him, it's like he's dancing up the rock. His movements are so fluid and beautiful to watch. No, Sticky isn't the "best" rock climber in the world (although he's damn good!) but he manages to inspire people just by being who he is. He's not faking it or doing it for the fame. He doesn't risk his life and he isn't on magazine covers but he's influenced me as well as many others, and that's a really special thing. 

All of that being said, this does not mean I don't respect those that do choose to free-solo and this is not meant to be a negative post towards those individuals. It is, after all, a personal choice. It takes a lot of courage and strength to either climb or highline with no protection and I commend those that can do it. It's just not for me. I hope that this post, instead of creating controversy, encourages people to make the right choices for themselves. I know that in life it can be difficult not to try something because everyone else is doing it, but stay true to who you are. There's nothing more powerful than that.


Stay tuned for a new video coming soon by Will McPherson.....I'll be talking more on this topic as well as sharing more of my world ;-)