An interview with Olga Henry
Julie: Hi Olga, thank you for being on the See&Do blog. Tell us your story, where are you from?
Olga: I was born in the south of Russia in the city called Stavropol. I don’t know why but I always wanted to live in the United States.
Julie: Where are you now?
Olga: I live in Culver city which is just a 20 minute drive from Santa Monica where I train.
” I feel focused on the present. Slacklining is the best meditation in terms of it takes you away from every other thought. “
Julie: When did your passion for balancing on things begin? How did your passion for slacklining start?
Olga: I remember when I was a little girl I liked walking on curbs. I think I even tried running on them. There was something fascinating about walking on a thinner part of the road. I have completely forgotten about it. And then when I was an adult and already lived in the US for a couple of years I walked by the slacklining park in Santa Monica and was curious to try. My brain really likes puzzles, not like regular ones but more as a “nut to crack” something that keeps me puzzled, thinking, trying to figure out. When I was studying it was mathematics for me now it’s slacklining.
It is a never ending stream of challenges or physical puzzles.
Julie: How do you feel when you’re on the line?
Olga: I feel focused on the present. Slacklining is the best meditation in terms of it takes you away from every other thought. I also feel scared a lot of the time. Recently I realized that I get dopamine or endorphins from throwing and landing something I haven’t done before or what was super scary. It’s like a 10 second orgasm like feeling haha.
Julie: What is it about slacklining and tricklining that speaks to you?
Olga: I like that it is a relatively new sport and there is a lot to be discovered and surprised about. I like that I can be a person who does something first or there is still no defined ways to learn or do tricks.
Julie: You train at the iconic Original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, what’s the community and atmosphere like there? Is it more than tourists and stoners?
Olga: I don’t think I’d ever got hooked on the slacklining without people at the beach. Eric an old French guy supported my curiosity by challenging me to walk different lines at first. He was also counting until 7 so I’d land my first chest bounces. There is some drama there because it’s a big mixture of personalities and people with different pasts but luckily I was always focused enough to keep training. It also gets on your nerves if you train throughout a busy tourist time because of a constant stream of people who want to try your line. Sometimes I give it time and sometimes I don’t. I’ve learned how not to feel bad about it and be more direct with saying no. But I will always remember that this is exactly how I discovered slacklining. It gets me into a teaching mode if somebody is really passionate about learning tricklining. There were times when beginner trickliners from somewhere else saw me training and walked by and I taught them new tricks.
“it’s not that hard in terms of anybody can learn this. It’s just the time put in.”
Julie: When spectators watch slackliners they probably don’t think about the skills needed beyond balance, what are the main things that you’d like non-slackliners to know about slacklining?
Olga: It’s very hard. It looks easy, sometimes it looks so easy that people think it’s like walking on the ground. But they change their mind when they try.
Julie: How brutal or not is it on the body?
Olga: It’s very brutal. Tricklining is not a symmetrical sport, you sit on the line turned one way. One of your legs is hanging, you are constantly bringing your legs close to your body. Psoas muscles, lower back, glutes all get overworked in not a very balanced way. Then think about this, you drop your body from a height into a 2 inch slackline constantly. A piece of my butt has calluses and pimples and doesn’t look pretty. Hair on my boyfriend’s chest is missing on one side. And then all the falls…after a good training I feel beat up. New tricks bring a lot more stuff like bruises, scratches.
Julie: You enjoy creative photography projects, how does this connect with slacklining and facing fears?
Olga: I’d do almost anything for a camera haha! I think it started when I was a kid and I liked to be filmed, it was very special time for me. Interesting projects give me a boost of adrenaline I guess and then I just throw tricks. Photography is more artsy and creative in terms of poses. But I definitely can get on a higher line and jump like crazy until I get the shot. My goal now is to bring that atmosphere to my regular training and use that reservoir of energy for landing new tricks.
Julie: You have 2 Guinness world records, Tell us about them, what did you do and how did you prepare for it?
Olga: I still have one officially and the other one is going through. I’ll tell you about the first one. The title is “the fastest 10 meters walked on a slackline on pointe”. It is a very hard tedious record that took a lot of preparation for me because I’ve never warn ballet shoes before I tried them on a slackline. The second record is still a secret but it’s something I enjoyed much more.
Julie: What non-slacklining skills in your background have set you up for success in slacklining?
Olga: I feel like my main quality here is determination. I don’t even quite understand why I am so dedicated to this sport for over 4 years. My creativity, I like beautiful cinematography, I have ideas to film videos, I like good laughs. And yes, my brain is very good at finding good strategies to achieve and tricklining gives plenty opportunities like that. I don’t have an extensive background in gymnastics or other sports that’s why I have to come up with different approaches how to land a trick, how to break it down into simple skills that I can build up on. Let’s say I want to learn rotations from my chest and I am scared. How about landing from chest to just 180 to feet, nope too scared. How about landing chest to switch feet and rotating after. Still scary. How about landing chest to one foot, the one in front, so the back foot can join after. Still scary. Okay, how about going from butt to one foot first. Dealing with this A, B, Cs inside of my training makes me a pretty good teacher because I can break down moves to pieces like that. I also can see what complex moves consists of, my brain breaks them down but it doesn’t always work very linear to how we learn physically.
Julie: How do you approach your training?
Olga: I work on 3-4 new tricks or skills to get those tricks and comboeing. In tricklining it’s important to be able to throw a combo – one trick after another after another. It’s harder than just doing one trick obviously. I am working on flipping. Psychologically it’s hard for me to land on a line when I know I can get slapped or thrown out right after but it’s the essential part of training. So for me it’s a lot of mental preparation besides physical. Also after 4 years I know my strong and weak sides. Let’s say it helps me to get rid of fear for a new line or height of the line if I just do simple things at first. I also break down training session into parts: new skills, polishing old tricks, connecting tricks. If I just focus on challenging tricks then training gets frustrating because there is not a lot of enjoyment.
Julie: How does your creative thinking and practices fit in with your athletic endeavours?
Olga: I was the first person to walk a slackline on pointe, jump on a slackline with high heels. I invented with some help of my ex-boyfriend and my trampoline coach a slackline pad, a pad that you fix around the line to make it padded and not sharp. I made a special vest for myself to learn backbounces because falls are brutal on your back and shoulders and 360s because the line slaps your arm hard if you miss and flips.
Julie: What are you working on right now?
Olga: Right now I am working on this post haha, but seriously social media is a big part of my slacklining. How are people or companies going to know what you are doing? Let’s say I walked a slackline in pointe and nobody knew about it. It makes a difference when you have a Guinness Record. Somehow people look at you differently. It was a big boost of my motivation too. It’s hard sometimes to progress slowly and deal with drawbacks but social media always pushes me, supports me. Sometimes I post a lot of stories and ask people about combos for me to land. After that I feel obligated to land them and people send messages with a lot of support. I love it. I am totally using this tool for the purpose of getting better. Some people don’t understand that, I mean the addiction to social media. For them also it might seem unfair that with my skills I am able to do and achieve what I do because they are more skilled. I feel like people should play the best with the cards they have and I am totally using everything I can.
Julie: Who can slackline?
Olga: It’s like asking who can walk. We all learn to balance on our two feet instead of four. It’s pretty amazing already. Somebody has to have a passion for slacklining to learn because it’s a long process. It helps to be trilled by ongoing challenges because they never stop. A lot of people find it useful to recover from knee or feet injuries because slacklining develops muscles that we don’t normally use in regular life. It also develops your brain because you create new paths inside of your brain and control muscles differently. I almost never fall if I trip over something or slip because my body can figure it out so fast. Once I stepped on a shaky wooden plank that covered a truss. I wasn’t supposed to walk on it but I didn’t know. I stepped on the corner of the plank and it slipped right under my step. I was about 6 feet high and my leg started falling through a truss, the other leg quickly reached for one more step forward, my body somehow stayed centered and balanced and I only had a bruise on my chin after this happened. Some other person who did a similar thing in the past broke his leg. Or once in a bar I wore heels and I was chatting with someone. I really do either of those things but anyway I stepped back and didn’t see a step right behind me. So while I was stepping back the heel of my shoe went right off the edge. I bent backwards mimicking how I would stabilize on a slackline like in a movie “Matrix” and continued the conversation. Everybody around was shocked.
Julie: What are the first steps for someone who wants to start slacking?
Olga: Besides choosing a line and trying to find people who are slacklining I’d suggest setting up a short low and tight line. It would make it easier to make your first steps. Some people don’t know that and slacklining seems frustrating and impossible. Later you can make lines looser and longer and higher.
Julie: How can people connect with you? (links to social etc & youtube.)
Olga: I am pretty active on instagram @olga.henry and facebook www.fb.com/athleteolga. I am also working on a new series of trickline theory and educational videos for Youtube. Here is my channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7fBwppiRFP945-nlQ2oVzg