Friday, May 11, 2012

Picking up the slack


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With eyes locked on a single point, T.J. Hartsfield walks out onto the line. It shakes and sways under his feet, but instead of falling, his body moves in sync with the motion. He walks along the thin strand, suspended in air. "I just clear my mind and let my body react," T.J. says.
 
  The sport T.J. practices at Show-Me Gymnastics on Monday evenings is called slacklining. You might see him balancing on the University of Missouri campus, in Peace Park or any number of places he feels like stretching a line. The premise is simple: You pull thin nylon webbing between two anchor points and walk across it. In practice, however, it's much more difficult. "I struggled with it at first," T.J. says. "But I felt myself improve pretty quickly, so it was kind of addicting after that."
 
  The sport is distinct from tightrope-walking because the line is thicker and has more flexibility and movement. It's a fairly new sport, and different styles of slacklining are still emerging. T.J. has been practicing for about two years, he says. As his skills with slacklining close to the ground have increased, so have his ambitions for the sport. T.J. says he hopes to try highlining this year, which is slacklining in a harness at significant heights or above water. "I'm kind of an adrenaline junkie," he says.
 
Slacklining has helped T.J. in other aspects of his life: The balance he has gained has improved his whitewater kayaking, rock-climbing and yoga skills and his mental clarity. "It's both mental and physical," he says. "Once you step onto the line, you're in your own world." The benefits extend to his surroundings, as well. "I feel like it's gotten me more in touch with the outdoors," he says. "And I feel like I've had a lot of good discussions around a slackline."
 
At the end of the day, though, T.J. says he finds enjoyment from any sports that connect fun with something physical. "They're more entertaining than just sitting on the couch," he says.

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