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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sometimes while you are off on the journey to reach your dreams you may stumble upon a better one.

When I first started slacklining I did it because I really, truly enjoyed it. I loved the way it felt to focus on something so intensely and so completely. Being on the line took me away from my daily life and into another world where I could relax and work on something both with and for myself. It seemed that I had found a unique form of meditation that not only required focus and patience but muscles I had never used before. I felt so challenged and so excited to push myself further and further than I had for quite some time. Throughout my childhood I played sports religiously but once I graduated high school I wasn't quite sure what to occupy my time with. For many years I felt lost and even a bit bored until I discovered the bizarre balance sport that would end up completely changing my life.

Slacklining was an activity that I could participate in without having to be on a "team". I could do it alone or with friends and once I discovered highlining it became a whole new ball game. The sport, or activity, or whatever it should be classified as soon became an obsession of mine. I started working for a slacklining company, Gibbon, traveling around and promoting both the sport and their products. I not only loved the sport myself but I was now doing it as my full time job. I was now surrounded with the sport and surrounded by people who also participated in it. I started competing in some of the competitions put on by the brand and was even able to travel to Germany to compete. I started to see this as my "big opportunity". I've always been really good at sports but never had I been so good that I could be on the top of the game. I was quickly considered one of the top females in the sport: worldwide. I felt like I had found my place and that not only had I accomplished something but I could accomplish so much more.

I started to dream BIG. I wanted to make films about the highlines I was rigging and walking. I wanted to break records and inspire other women to reach for the stars. I wanted to be a role model. I wanted sponsors for my athletics and so that it what I got. I was so excited that I felt like a kid again. My mind was so consumed with ideas that sometimes I couldn't fall asleep at night because I was thinking about the next big thing I was going to do. I started making videos of what I was doing, both rock climbing and highlining. The videos were very well received, some even got tens of thousands of views. I started making videos of my girlfriends and I and we even created a sports team together called "The Vertigirls", the goal being to push the limits of outdoor sports and inspire other women. I was thrilled about where this was all going and I was so grateful to have found my way.

What I didn't realize was that by putting myself out there I was going to get both positive AND negative feedback. Now being a "sponsored athlete" I was required to post on social media outlets about what I was doing and talk about products. I was extremely present on Facebook and Twitter and started to gain a lot of followers. People knew who I was at particular events, some people even acting strange around me like I was some sort of famous person. At first it was fun but after a while I started to feel like I just wanted to be a normal person again. I couldn't seem to have an normal conversation with someone because if I talked about slacklining or highlining or what I had been doing lately it felt like I was bragging even if I wasn't. Eventually I stopped talking about it because I just felt so uncomfortable. I started to feel like I had to monitor what I talked about and said and I wished I would have been a little more careful about what I had wished for.

Despite the overwhelming amount of positive comments and support throughout the community during the years that I was pushing the sport it was very difficult for me to receive negative feedback even if it was few and far between. I'm someone who can take constructive criticism if it's coming from the heart but a lot of the negative comments were just plain mean. In promoting myself and my athletics I started to develop "haters": people who went out of their way to attack me, either on my blog, on facebook or by contacting my sponsors. Sometimes these hater's ended up being my jealous "friend's". When I would accomplish something like rigging a new line or making it into a magazine I would get criticism that was based in jealousy. To be completely honest it was one of the hardest things I have had to deal with in my life. As a kid throughout school I was never really one to be picked on or targeted, actually I was the one who stuck up for the one' getting picked on, so I guess my turn was meant to come later in life. I felt like I was being bullied but I was in my 20's for heaven's sake! I felt so beat down and a lot of times I felt so completely alone. I had people telling me not to worry about the comments, to let them go...but I've never been good at that. Despite my strong and confident appearance I do get hurt just like everybody else. I started to feel like this community of slackliners that I had surrounded myself with really wasn't as supportive and positive as I thought it was and I was beginning to feel a distaste for it all. In other words, I was burning out.

I tried to keep going. I kept pursuing my goals, making videos and spewing ideas onto paper when I had them in the middle of the night. I distanced myself from the negative people. I didn't want to give up because then I would be a failure, right? No matter how hard I tried I was slowly but surely losing the original reasons I started practicing slacklining in the first place. I became so consumed with ideas and dreams. I had to constantly deal with negativity and try to keep pushing forward that I was not only distracted and stressed out but I no longer knew who I was without slacklining. I WAS slacklining. It's what I did for fun, it's what I did for work, my friends slacklined, my boyfriend slacklined and I was stuck in this tornado of this one single thing. It was inevitable that I would eventually crash, and I did.

What I didn't realize at the time was that I had completely lost myself. I had completely immersed myself in the sport and in the community. I was surrounded by people that were reaching for the same thing that I was reaching for which made it nearly impossible for me separate myself from everyone else. My boyfriend at the time, God bless him, would try to tell me how consumed I was but I wasn't able to see it. I couldn't enjoy the moment anymore because I was always thinking about the future and how I was going to make slacklining a career for myself. Eventually, after two years of dating we broke up and I truly believe that was the moment I was able to pick my head up and look around at my life. I re-located for the winter to get my bearings and I believe this was the beginning of my transition to the next phase of my life. It felt a bit like coming out of the clouds on a long flight. I was finally seeing clearly for the first time since I had started my whole athletic journey. There were other things that I really enjoyed to do that I had been neglecting like listening to music, watching movies, hanging out with friends, making jewelry, taking photos, running, playing with my dog, or slacklining just for the fun of it rather than for the photos or for the potential sponsors or for the magazine features.

I wish I could put all of this into the perfect set of words so that I could explain it exactly like I want it to although I'm sure I'll feel like I have left some things out. What I learned from everything that I went through is that, often, life isn't about what you think it is about. Sometimes while you are off on the journey to reach your dreams you may stumble upon a better one. Sitting here in my bedroom with my two beautiful dogs and watching the love of my life sleep I am so happy to know that no matter what I choose to do with my life I want to enjoy what I have right here and right now. Looking back on the times where I was reaching and reaching for something else in the future I just laugh because I can see how truly unhappy I was. Today after a lot of tough stuff and re-evaluating I am so excited about my life and the family I have created for myself. This doesn't mean I'm done slacklining for good, it just means that perhaps it won't be my main focus in life like I thought it would be. For the longest time I thought that I would always be a "slackliner" but now I see the whole experience as a  beautiful lesson. I will not always be a slackliner, I will always be Emily, and now my goal is to perfect that instead.