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  • Writer's pictureEmmy Ciabattoni

A Pedacito Of Emmy Ciabattoni

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

I grew up as a competitive figure skater in Prior Lake, MN. Do you know how many tries it takes to land one of those crazy jumps? On average,1,000+. Imagine that: falling down about one thousand times before getting to where you want to be.

I always placed high in skating, even at state and regional competitions, until I didn’t; I went through puberty, my body changed, and I had to relearn my center of balance. I was falling, one thousand times all over again, and many times in front of large crowds.

Then my dad took a big pay cut. We could no longer afford the coaches, ice-time, and dresses. I coached myself but all of the mental, physical, and dietary training I did on my own couldn’t seem to stack up to my competitor’s resources.

And to top it off, my parents were going through a pretty messy divorce. During competitions, I’d break down mentally and fall on everything.

I was frustrated, sad, and overwhelmed—so I started running. A lot. After all, it was free.

I ran, and ran, and ran, kinda like Forrest Gump I guess, to become captain of my high school cross country team and through the finish line of a marathon. The sense of achievement was incredible, but I missed skating.

My school's cross-country team
My school's cross-country team

The University of New Hampshire had a recreational figure skating team, free ice-time, and everything I ever wanted; but it was too expensive. My dad decided that I’d attend the University of Minnesota because it was the most practical option; my heart was heavy but I stayed silent. I was grateful just for the opportunity to attend college.

Despite the fact that I didn’t have many friends and couldn’t seem to fit it in, I buried my head in my studies and tried to accept my fate. Deep down, I felt sad again. I felt like I had no control over my life. And as a result, I lost my appetite for life. I stopped eating.

I started to lose my appetite for life
I started to lose my appetite for life

I got smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and strangely, felt better. When my mom begged me to get therapy at 97lbs, I didn’t think I needed it. Many tears and nightmares later, I accepted help.

I spent my summer in an outpatient group, passing the days with a small group of adult strangers who struggled with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. We ate breakfast, snacks, and lunch together daily, and shared our deepest, darkest secrets. Every day I wondered... how did I get here?

I was forced to eat a lot of food, stop exercising, and talk about my emotions. I was a wreck. A lot of things came up. I repressed a lot through my parent's divorce; depression, self-harm, manipulation, emotional abuse, physical abuse, anxiety, betrayal, shame, guilt, and other things.

I cried a lot that summer.

But I started feeling better. And I thought—wow if this is what happens when I try to ignore my dreams for the sake of someone/thing else, they really must matter. My dreams matter.

The beginning of my college life
The beginning of my college life

I applied again to UNH; and this time, I was accepted with an incredibly generous scholarship. I felt right at home when I arrived. I spent a lot of time healing there—surrounded by the wilderness and practicing my new way of living that I learned in therapy.

Me and my friends at UNH
Me and my friends at UNH

It turned out to be critical that I fought for my dream.

UNH connected me to a study abroad program in Seville, Spain, where I saved money on tuition. It connected me to an incredible professor who helped me publish a research article about anorexia nervosa healing. And it connected me to an unbelievable internship in Costa Rica, where I became a divemaster—and fell deeply in love with the ocean.

But when I graduated college, top of my class, I couldn’t find a job for almost a year; I thought that something was wrong with me. I was desperate and ready to settle for anything, but the universe said no, dream bigger.

Graduation Day at UNH

At my wit's end, I applied for an Australian working holiday visa. I went door-to-door for days in Queensland—handing out resumes, being told “it’s hopeless”, working at the greasiest fast food joint in the meantime (you could literally smell the grease on my skin at all hours of the day).

Finally, I found a job that I couldn’t have conjured up in my wildest dreams. I worked as the hostess of the Kangaroo Explorer—a liveaboard ship in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. I lived, ate, slept, and dove on the boat every day for six months.

When I came back to the states, I struggled yet again to find a job. I worked long hours waitressing, applying without responses, completely convinced that there was something wrong with me.

About a year later, when the time was right, Brand Buddha (a creative agency based in San Clemente, CA) offered me a job. Besides all of the free food and proximity to the surf, I was honored with lots of responsibility. I rose from social media specialist to manager, to director—the director of an entire agency. I couldn’t believe it.

My first job at Brand Buddha
My first job at Brand Buddha

Everything had to happen the way that it did so I could end up here, right now, in Costa Rica, still completely in love with the ocean. Actually, I’m building my own business aimed at saving it (Nāmaka).

It can be scary to walk your own path and follow your dreams—but it’s worth it. If you’re brave enough to do it, I’ll tell you right now that you’ll probably fail 1,000+ times before standing up; but each failure is a milestone, a redirection, a step in the right direction.

And you will get there, I promise you if you keep believing. You will get to where you’re meant to be and you’ll love it.


Want to know more? Are you interested in becoming a contributor for Pedacitos? We'd love to hear your stories! Send me a message and I will get back to you!

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Michael Acevedo
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