By Chris Chaney
10-year-old Mary Nelson of Withamsville needed a personal best score to finish in fourth place at the 71st GOODE Water Ski National Championships in West Palm Beach, Fla on Aug. 17.
Mary qualified for nationals through her experience on the Buckeye Buoy Tour. Competing in Girls 1 slalom, Mary and her fellow skiiers must navigate through a six-buoy course, successfully weaving in and out while trailing a boat that increases speed as full runs are completed.
For 10 year olds, the boat’s top speed is 30 miles per hour. Once competitors make a clean run through the six buoys at 30 mph, the trailing rope is shortened, making completing the course more and more difficult.
Heading into nationals, Mary’s best run had been at 2 at 15 off, which translates to completing two buoys at 30 mph with the rope shortened 15-feet from the original 75-foot length.
With family and friends down in West Palm Beach to cheer her on, her father, Andrew, was nervous as the 6th-seeded Mary prepared to enter the water. The goal Mary set for herself was to earn a spot on the podium, which features the top-5 in each age group.
“We had a good practice and got her core speed and line lengths down (earlier in the week),” Andrew Nelson said. “But at nationals, if you fall on your opening pass, there is no second pass — you’re done.”
Prior to Mary’s first pass, three girls had gone before her, scoring a 51, 56 and 56, respectively. The 56 mark was Mary’s best score up to that point. She had accomplished only a few weeks prior to the national tournament and would force her to perform exceptionally to accomplish her goal of reaching the podium.
“As it got closer to Mary’s turn, the girls before her put up some big scores and we as parents and family and friends were very nervous,” Andrew said, explaining the tension Mary’s support system were feeling. “As parents, you try to set your children up to success, but there’s always a chance that they could fall short.”
For Mary, there was no such worry. She made successful passes on all six buoys at 26 mph, then again at 28 mph and finally at 30 mph.
The time between passes is only 60 seconds making instruction and adjustments very difficult. Now with the line shortened to 60 feet, or 15-off in skiing parlance, Mary needed an all-time best run to even tie the two best scores to that point.
“She got around (the first buoy) and looked really good,” Andrew explained, reliving the run in his head. “She was early going into the second buoy, which is good — it means the ski casts you out far enough that you’re not cutting it close (to the next buoy).
“She shot across the wake to two and we sat there silent as she went around (the second buoy) — I thought then that she might have a chance to run it. But she was late coming into (the third buoy). She made her way around three and got back through the wake, which makes it count as three full buoys (completed), but couldn’t get to the fourth.”
Mary’s run of 3 at 15 off was her best ever and good enough to solidify her a spot on the podium with a score of 57. The two tied at 56 before her had to ski off for fifth position.
“We were ecstatic,” Andrew said. “For her to set a personal best at a tournament and for it to be at nationals where stakes are so high, she blew it out of the water.”
The experience and success were cause for Mary to catch what Andrew calls “water ski fever.” Unfortunately, during this time of year in Clermont County, Andrew said that they start to wind things down as the weather doesn’t lend itself to water skiing.
Still, Mary is anxious to continue her skiing career even though that’s not the only competition she enjoys. Andrew said Mary plays club soccer year round and will use that as a cross-training method to get her ready for next season.
As a 10-year-old, Mary will move up to compete in Girls 2 next year by virtue of her age.
For more information on US Water Ski and nationals, visit their website at www.usawaterski.org/nationals/index_nationals.html.