Jessica on a slackline2

200 Feet off the ground

Throughout elementary school, I was often told to slow down while running on the playground. Teachers didn’t want me to go down the slide or jump off the high dive. I’ve always had an adventurous personality, so being told “no” simply fueled me to try new and exhilarating things.  

Flying was the first of many big adventures. As of today, I’ve been flying solo for nine years! Then came scuba diving. It’s well worth the plunge and adds a whole new dimension to any tropical vacation. And of course, Taekwondo. Kicking each other, ironically, builds a stronger bond between Patrick and I. 

Time for something new 

Earlier this year, I was contacted by Yali Sharon, a documentary filmmaker (again, I know!). Yali wanted to help document my next adventure. The only problem: I needed an adventure.

Yali caught me a bit flat-footed but we talked about several possibilities: Rock climbing, doing standup comedy, and slacklining. If we were going to work together, I needed to choose something that would be practical to film and something I could easily practice while on the road. The activity that made perfect sense: slacklining! 

Think of tightrope walking. Slacklining is essentially the same thing except that tightrope walking uses a tightly secured cable or rod between two anchors, while slacklining uses a two-inch-wide strap that is slightly loose, and usually strung a couple of feet off the ground between two trees. So, simply, tightrope walking uses a tight rope and slacklining has some slack. Go figure! 

My ultimate goal is to try highlining, which is when you take a slackline and string it over a canyon or valley (thrilling, right?). Before I get ahead of myself, I decided to start slow. The first time I ever saw somebody slackline was on the Guinness world record show when I received my metal for flying. I thought it looked like a lot of fun. But, the first time I stepped on a slackline, I realized that every preconceived notion I had about it was wrong.

Baby steps

I did gymnastics as a kid and, as you might guess, I had a knack for the balance beam. Having good balance was one of the things I’ve had to maintain out of necessity. To open a door or reach for something on a counter, I stand on one foot while reaching with the other. Preventing myself from falling is also important, as I don’t have arms to brace myself. So, I originally thought that I’d have an advantage when it came to balancing on a slackline. However, it’s a lot harder than it looks. 

The first thing I didn’t realize about the slackline is how much it moves. When most people step on a line for the first time, it immediately starts shaking so hard they’re forced to step off after only a few seconds. When I stepped on and the shaking started, I reflexively put my other foot on the slackline and I promptly lost my balance and had to step off. While everyone’s natural instinct when losing their balance is to make sure that both feet are firmly planted on the ground, I had to fight that instinct and remain standing on the line with one foot while using the other foot as a counterbalance. Even so, on that first day, it was hard to stand on the line for very long before having to step off. Baby steps for sure. 

With my eyes intently locked on the tiniest spot on the far tree, my mind became fully focused on the task at hand. With one foot out to counterbalance and both legs covered in dirt and scratches from several falls, by the end of the day, I was able to walk from one end of a short slackline to the other, or in slacklining terms: “send.” It was a huge success!

Hours and hours of practice later, I’m now able to send a line about 20 feet long.

Despite losing my balance and either stepping or falling off the slackline more times than I can count, it is surprisingly addictive. The moment both feet touch solid ground I want to step back up on the line again. An even better feeling is when I finally send a distance that was previously a struggle. The rush of achievement as you make it across the line after fighting for each step is exhilarating.

Higher off the ground

I blame all the time I’ve spent in airplanes as the reason I’m not satisfied with walking between trees in a park a couple of feet off the ground. My heart is set on a vision I’m both excited and terrified about: 100+ foot slackline over a canyon 200 feet deep. 

Don’t worry, I will ensure that every safety precaution is taken. There is daring and then there is crazy. I may be daring, but only if I’m safe.

Keep an eye out for the full production video of this new adventure within the coming year. I can imagine a lot of possibilities with such a portable, yet challenging activity. Flying is expensive, laborious, and a bit more difficult to do with others. Slacklining, however, gives me an opportunity to connect with people around the world, which is a thrill on its own. 

I plan to be on the road this fall with HI, and I’ll roll up my slackline so I can show the people I meet what’s possible with some grit and determination, and continue to challenge people to set high expectations for people with disabilities like me. 

So watch out, if I’m coming to a city near you, you may just have to try it with me! 

Jessica Cox