Learn to Water Ski

In July 2000, having done the marathon thing and given alpine skiing a one winter chance, I decided to focus on water skiing to curb my need to compete. Read on to see what got me interested in, and competing in, water skiing.

            Mike jumping with guide Bill Bowness

LEARNING TO WATER SKI — at age 10, I started water skiing. Growing up in rural Nebraska, I had to squeeze as much water skiing in around farming chores as possible. This would mean getting in eight to ten water days a summer. Looking back, my cousins and I probably pushed our entry-level Cypress Garden Pro Combo skis (which we used for slalom) to the limit. A torn boot or busted fin was an every summer occurrence during my high school days.

DECIDING TO COMPETE — In July 2000, two things happened that made me decide I should try competing. First, my Dad lost his three-year long battle with cancer and my sisters decided I should take Dad’s boat back to Houston. Secondly, upon returning to Texas after the funeral, I attended a water ski clinic held by Texas Adaptive Aquatics on Lake Houston. At the ski clinic, I met Joe Ray with Adaptive Aquatics and Bill and Denise Bowness with Unlimited Skiing. The three encouraged me to train for and compete at the next year’s national tournament. I decided there would be no greater tribute to my Dad than to go and win the Audio Slalom at the 2001 Nationals.

LEARNING TO JUMP — In June 2001, I traveled to London, England for work. There was a water ski tournament for the disabled being held by the British Disabled Water Ski Association at Heron Lake near my London office. So of course, my slalom ski made the trip with me. After work I would drag my co-workers with me to Heron Lake so I could practice my Audio Slalom. I sensed my co-workers getting bored with Audio Slalom practice, so I decided I should give the water ski ramp a try. The Monday before the water ski tournament, I attempted my first jumps. I got to know the ski ramp very intimately on that Monday, after five unsuccessful attempts. My co-workers were impressed that I could slide all the way up the ramp on my left side, right side and back side. I returned on Wednesday with my co-workers, having camera in hand, ready for a show. Long-story-short, I landed each of my four jump attempts. When the tournament arrived on Saturday, I was a 2-event skier.

As a side note, at Heron Lake, I had the opportunity to ski with Chris Mairs, the inventor of the Bat Blaster, the Audio Slalom Signal Guide (ASSG) used by blind skiers, and the V2/3 World Record holder at the time for the audio slalom. I also purchased a Bat Blaster so I could train once back in the United States.

GETTING THE GEAR — I returned from London in early July with about one month left until the 2001 Nationals. I traveled to Brandon, Mississippi to spend a week training with Bill and Denise Bowness at Unlimited Skiing, their ski school. The couple helped me locate jump skis, a 3-event bag and a jump guide. Actually, they did not have to look far for a jump guide since Bill volunteered. I recall that Bill made sure I would not mind being guided by a “short guy” because Bill is a sit skier. Bill’s bio is very impressive and I was quite happy to have Bill as a guide. A side benefit of having a “short guy” as a guide makes my jumps look that more impressive because it increases the distance between the top of Bill’s head and the bottom of my skis. I am very grateful to Bill and Denise for all the help they provided in getting me ready for my first Nationals.

2001 NATIONALS – I had a great time at my first nationals. A highlight of the event was meeting the other skiers, each with their own challenges that were not slowing them down. I ended up placing second in the Audio Slalom event. In the jump, I missed runner -up by half a meter. Not quite what I had hoped for, but not bad either. I was sure my Dad was proud.