We love when you tag #lovenaja on social media! One of our Naja customers, the incredible @ERINUNLEASHES caught our eye! Born disabled but strong, passionate and determined, she inspires us to break down barriers and #BeAnything
Hi Erin, we spotted you in our instagram #lovenaja tags and couldn’t help but be inspired by your spunk! Tell us your origin story!
I think it all started when I dyed my hair red. I can’t really remember a lot before that hahaha.
I’m originally from Canada in a small town in Northern Ontario on the border between Ontario and Quebec - English and French-speaking Canada. My family lived in trailers in a highway town and I grew up around a lot of black spruce trees.
At the end of high school, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do and who I was going to be. Somebody in the lunch room showed me an ad for a non-profit organization that sent non-professional volunteers to developing countries. I signed up and got placed in Kenya when I was 19 and was supposed to stay for 3 months. I kept going back until 6 years had passed and I had spent most of that time living in Kenya alone.
That kickstarted me on roaming, travelling and being raised by the world. I lived in New York for a while and performed aerial acrobatics there with a friend of mine which was one of the most amazing and fun things that I’ve ever done.
Then I tried out different cities, coming to Spain to train with an aerial rope specialist and loved it here. Now for the next year I live in a small town in Catalonia in Spain!
I also started a magazine, travelling is where I get my stories from.
Recently, my friends who own a studio in town are competitive pole dancers and they said ‘You should try pole-dancing!’ It turns out that I’m really good at it. I’m now working on a pole routine for a competition in September. There is no other disabled competitor, so I am already the champion of myself which is the story of my life!
What are some mountains that you’ve moved that you’ve been especially proud of?
Not physical ones. People think my challenges are physical and they aren’t. I was born strong and agile. Not being able to walk is not really that big of a deal. It’s part of my sensory experience so it’s relevant but it isn’t the major obstacle nor the major accomplishment. I was born with it there was never a challenge for me. For other people, it’s a paradox that I use a wheelchair to get around but I’m also very strong and capable. That to me is an issue for society to deal with - it’s not really my problem.
For me, my creative projects are more interesting and I’m more proud of them because they’re harder, riskier. They take actual bravery. My biggest mountains are very internal - emotional and psychological.
What stops me from saying the things that I want? What are the fears that I have about going certain places or trying certain things?
I’m the most proud of the fact that my life is what I want it to be. I had dreams, impulses, inspirations and I just kept going. The tiny moments of my days are pleasing to me and I made that out of nothing. That is what I’m most proud of.
Being a pole dancer is just something I do on Saturday afternoons because I can. It’s other people who think ‘Oh! Well you’re in a wheelchair you can’t do that’.
Was there ever a moment where you felt discouraged from doing something but you believed in yourself, you went ahead and did it anyway and found success?
Pretty much every time I have a new idea. The starting point of ‘This is too big for me, who am I to do this?’ is always there. What are you going to do? Not do it? Go anyway, do it anyway! Because the alternative is you don’t, and that is never better. It’s easier, but it’s never BETTER.
I’m surrounded by incredible women who do things in their own way. I look around and see how much possibility there is.
I wanted to live in Spain. The process was really complicated and I didn’t have a really good reason for why. It wasn’t like I had a job that I was moving for or my boyfriend was there. There was no anchoring reason except that I felt connected and at home in Spain. I had a year’s worth of gathering government documentation and paperwork and being told I hadn’t done things right. That year was really difficult. I remembered why I wanted to do it and it was enough. It felt right - that’s a good enough reason even if it’s something you have to work really hard for.
You can just have a whim and follow through. When I was on the cusp of giving up I took in the support I was given and kept going. Always do that.
If you could give all women a superpower what would it be and why?
Curiosity and desire without shame. I think I’ve done everything that I’ve done because of my curiosity and desire feeding off of each other. I would give that to all womankind. If they can feel their desires and follow through with them without shame or hesitation. The idea of roadblocks is cumbersome and unnecessary. Things don’t have to be a hardship even when they’re not pleasant.
Be more curious and connected to what you want, regardless of why you want it. Just the feeling of wanting it is enough.
What is an adventure you’ve had?
I wanted to do a Via Ferrata. A Via Ferrata is really common here. There are mountains here and someone goes ‘Let’s take the most impractical way from one side of the mountain to the other and while we go, we’ll install metal hardware so the next person who decides they want to pass the least efficient way possible has a slightly easier time.’ This is my interpretation.
Via Ferrata means ‘Iron Way’, you are making your way across sheer rock face, dangling over nothing in a harness and a metal handhold.
My friend whom I call my personal Adventure Professor has a masters degree in outdoor education. He figured out the logistics like ‘What do I know about climbing, what kind of situations can we get in and what are Erin’s capacities?’
The whole time I’m thinking ‘How much am I going to cry? Can I cry the whole way?’
He said “Yes, you can.”
The first leg of it was really intimidating and intense I was really terrified and feeling so scared to die deep in my bones. When we got to the first rest period and I cried my face off and was immediately ready to go for the next segment.
This is like a condensed intensified microcosm of what life is like for me.
Whenever we were switching safety lines hanging on by a literal thread, Adventure Professor Ben would say “You’re on you now.” I thought what an amazing mantra for life that is. When you are transitioning and everything is new “You’re on you now”.
You got it, you just have to know you are safe.
So besides “You're on you” from your Adventure Professor what is a note to self that you would like be to reminded of?
“Be more you”. The times when I am feeling unsure or I’m hesitating to move forward the thing that always works is to remember to be more me. Everything else can go fall away. Asking myself ‘What am I curious about? What do I want?’ Do more of that.
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