What do you get when you combine very high cliffs, a thin slackline, and a very determined young woman? Slacklining, a sport that has recently gained increasing popularity throughout the world, requires large amounts of balance, focus, practice and motivation. There are many different types; highlining between cliffs, longlining on long lines, and performing tricks and flips. Although this relatively new sport boasts many impressive categories, they all have one thing in common: the goal to stay centered and balanced while performing on a thin line. Heather Larsen is an athlete and instructor with Gibbon Slacklines. For Heather, a day at the office includes waking up, and elegantly walking a 130 ft long highline between towering Colorado mountains. I recently had the privilege of watching Heather slackline at the 2014 Go Pro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado and admired her talent, poise, dedication and sport.
Can you tell readers about what you do, and about the sport of slacklining and highlining since it’s relatively new to most people?
Slacklining is a balance and movement practice where you walk and/or do tricks on a piece of webbing stretched between two points. The sport engages you mentally, as well as physically. It is a great cross trainer for strengthening and stabilizing and is also it’s own sport. I am an instructor and athlete for Gibbon Slacklines. I teach clinics for all ages, train professional athletes, and do performances on slacklines and highlines.
That’s impressive! What made you choose this career and sport? Can you tell us about one specific accomplishment that you consider most significant in your career?
The spot truly grabbed hold of me. It quickly turned from a hobby into a lifestyle for me. Passion is the reason I pursue slacklining and highlining. Once I saw what was possible, it gave me a picture of what I wanted to do with it. There are so many directions you can go with the sport! My biggest accomplishments are cleanly walking a 130 ft. long highline and developing new tricks for tandem slacklining, a practice I have with a fellow athlete, Josh Beaudoin.
A 130 ft. long line…that takes a lot of courage. You’re harnessed in on a line between two cliffs and look down…I can’t imagine the first thought that comes to mind. Have you ever felt fear doing what you do? How would you overcome a fear like that, especially if you were new to the sport and need to push through some anxiety?
Anxiety and fear take over when you start playing the “what if” game. Everybody does it. “What if ______?” When I started highlining, I did that ALL the time! Slacklining, for me, is all about being fully present in the now. These thoughts take you out of the present moment. To overcome those negative thoughts, I just had to remember: Be fully present in what you’re doing. This is a slackline and you know how to slackline, so stand up- take some steps! Fear is a part of highlining. It is why the lines I rig are done carefully and redundant. Fear keeps you safe, but it can also hold you back. Your body’s instinct is to not want to walk, but it is all about managing your fear healthily and being 100% sure your rig is bomber and 100% aware of the consequences if it isn’t. If you trust your equipment and set up and you have the skills and ability to walk a line in the park, you have the ability to highline. Smile, breathe, and rememeber that you love slacklining- that’s why you’re there in the first place, right?
Exactly, trust is incredibly important, and there is a lot of self trust and responsibility involved in your sport and performance. Speaking of staying balanced, how do you stay balanced and strong in your everyday life?
Smile and breathe!
Someone’s getting really frustrated slacklining because they can’t balance and stay on the line…they aren’t smiling, or breathing! What do you tell them?
Some of the most frustrating times with slacklining will be your first few tries. The more you practice, the longer you will be able to stay on. Keep your arms high, bending at the elbows, find your focus point, relax, and breathe! Sometimes it helps just to stand in your strong stance for awhile before walking the full line.
It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to reach goals. You’ve had to build skill and work hard to reach a certain performance level. Describe the process of hard work…what is a main motivator for you?
My goals for slacklining and highlining have been huge motivators to get out and train. Knowing what you want out of something can really push you to take the steps necessary for accomplishment. Another motivator in training- spending time on the line has taught me so much about life, in addition to the sport itself, so it is just natural to want to put myself in that environment.
What’s your training and nutrition like? Are there any aspects you’ve needed to focus on more than others, or habits you’ve changed?
My training is really just slacklining as much as possible: walking different types of lines, different lengths, weights, tension, etc, holding poses for as long as possible, doing reps, and trying new tricks on the line. As far as nutrition, I don’t have a specific regime, but I try to be conscious of what I eat and if it benefits the energy I need to have or accomplish my goals.
Being a petite woman, has there ever been a time when you’ve been underestimated for your strength or skill?
I have a ton of encouragement from the whole slackline community and have grown in my abilities because of that. What a 175 lb. guy can do on the line, I can do too! (With practice, of course!) I may need to adjust how I accomplish the same thing, but we all have different bodies and have to figure out what works best for ourselves. It’s also really fun to develop my own style aside from what the guys are throwing out there, and show what else is possible.
What about your goals…has anyone ever told you that yours were unattainable?
The really beautiful thing about the slackline community is that it is one of the most encouraging groups I have ever been involved with. Slackers want you to succeed and meet your goals. I also have a great trainer who helps me realize the proper steps I need to take to reach my goals and helps me be realistic with what is possible now and what my potential is for the future.
I was talking to a guy in Vail who looked at me and said, “Guys are just better than girls at slacklining. They just are.” So What does that statement mean to you?
What makes someone good at anything is practice. Ultimately, the time you invest in something is what makes you great at what you do.
We agree that “strong is the new skinny” and that there is also beauty in strength. What do you say?
I definitely agree with that, but strength and beauty also comes from the mind and the only person who can truly define that is yourself.
How do you feel about body image, and yourself? Is there ever any pressure as an athlete to maintain a certain physique?
Having a good body image is an essential part of loving yourself. My physique is the result of my actions. I’ve always felt pretty good about how I look and I would encourage others to feel good about how they look. If you’ve found your passion, run with it, and the great image will follow.
Think fast, one rule you live by…Go!
Don’t take anything personally. All people live by their own belief systems and when you take something personally, you are making the assumption that they know what is in your world and that they are living by your beliefs.
What do you want girls to know about being strong as a person and an athlete?
You already have everything you need to be successful and whole. You get back what time and energy you give to something in your growth with what you practice.
A really important question…favorite dessert?
Macaroons 🙂 Coconut is my weakness
It’s good to enjoy a good dessert here and there! What can we expect from you next Heather?!
I’m working with my tandem partner on some really cool new projects! Really creative and interesting stuff is on the way. I’ll also be doing some more highlining performances soon. I will be posting on Instagram. You can follow me at @slacklarsen
Heather, thank you again for joining Miss Strong for an interview, and for discussing your passion and lifestyle as a slackliner and athlete. Gibbon Slacklines can be found online at www.gibbonslacklines.com and make sure to follow along with Heather and her adventurous work on Instagram at @slacklarsen.