By Chris Chaney
For the Nelson family of Withamsville, what originated as a way to spend quality time with one another has transformed into a gateway towards national prominence for 10-year-old Mary when she competes in West Palm Beach, Fla. on Aug. 13-17 in the US National Water Ski Championships.
The preconceived notion, both figuratively and literally, was the brainchild of Mary’s father, Andrew.
“It all started before (Mary) was born,” Andrew said. “I bought a boat with the thinking that it would be good family time. The evolution occurred from recreational — getting out on the water and tubing — to Mary trying water skiing first at the age of 3 and a half up on trainer skis.”
Andrew said Mary’s balance had always been exceptional, from walking before her first birthday to taking so naturally to skiing. Her smile when she was out on the water told her parents all they needed to know about Mary’s love for skiing and her skill level lent itself to competition.
By the time Mary was 5 years old, she had advanced from trainer skis, to regular skis, all the way to a single slalom ski, which requires the skiers feet to be situated on the ski forward, one in front of the other.
The Nelson’s discovered slalom skiing through a family friend who had a private ski lake with a slalom course set up on it. The challenge immediately hooked the family.
During the time that the Nelson’s became enamored with slalom skiing, the Ohio Water Ski Association was fostering outreach programs to get more recreational skiers participating in their statewide events.
One such endeavor of the OWSA that caught the eye of the Nelson’s was the Buckeye Buoy Tour. The BBT is set up on a handicap system that allows skiers to compete against themselves in a sense, but also scores them against their competitors on a basis of improvement. The handicap is determined by the amount of buoys a given skier can navigate without falling. The percentage of improvement over the course of the event is then calculated against the rest of the field in determining the winner.
“The Buckeye Buoy Tour is set up to foster growth and competition,” Andrew said. “You’re skiing against your ability and not the field.”
Mary, along with her siblings, began to compete in those slalom events, which requires the skier to navigate through a course of six buoys in a zigzag fashion. Upon completion of the course, the length of the rope attached to the boat is decreased incrementally while the speed at which the boat travels gradually increases, making the course more difficult to complete.
Another strong aspect of the BBT is that all scores are submitted to the US Water Ski, meaning that the Nelson’s could see how Mary stacks up against other skiers in her age group across the nation. As a 9-year-old last year, Mary successfully completed the course and was able to begin moving up in terms of speed of the boat.
“When we started out this year doing the Tour, (Mary) was able to increase her boat speed up to her top speed of 30 miles per hour and successfully run the course,” Andrew explained, pointing out that 30 was the top speed for Mary’s age group. “We knew based on her trajectory, there were only a few people her age in the country that can successfully do that.
“The transition occurred from us seeing that she could score and do very well to, based on her scores, automatically qualifying for nationals based on her participation in the sanctioned tournaments throughout the state.”
The St. Thomas More honor student will compete in a regional qualifier in Minnesota this Friday, Aug. 2 , despite already being automatically qualified based on her scores. Her participation in the regional is simply a US Water Ski prerequisite for competing in the National Championships.
The following week, Mary will practice at Lake Lottawatta in New Miami ahead of the Nationals, traveling on the Aug. 13 and practicing again on site in West Palm Beach on Aug. 14. Mary’s G1 age group will compete on Aug. 15.
For more information on the National Championships, you can track the progress on the US Water Ski Twitter feed, @USAWaterSki or visit their website at usawaterski.org.