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There’s no record of who first adapted water ski equipment to facilitate skiing with a physical disability. Undoubtedly, it was someone who loved the sun, water and adventure and refused to be stopped by a physical challenge! The sheer excitement, nervousness, and apprehensiveness of new athletes is supplanted by smiles, confidence, and pride after they experience the joy of water skiing for the first time. Some have no desire to compete, while others get addicted to the rush and compete, a few to this highest level. Witnessing these transformations motivates us to continue our efforts to serve our athletes with disabilities.
Disabled water skiers compete in the same three events as traditional water skiing; slalom, tricks, and jump. Those who stand to ski, and those with vision impairment, use able bodied equipment; some athletes with arm disabilities may use an assistive device. Slalom skiing involves passing through "entry gates", zig zagging around six buoys, passing through "exit gates" at a prescribed speed. When that pass is made, the boat speed is increased by 2mph to the maximum speed of 36mph (for young men) or 34mph (for young women). Speeds decrease by 2mph with age. When the skier reaches their maximum boat speed, they shorten the rope length in certified increments, making each pass more difficult. In able bodied competition the world record rope length is shorter than the distance of the rope to the buoy, tall people have a definite advantage! Miss rounding a buoy or a gate and your turn is over. Slalom scores are written as buoy count/boat speed/line length (metric numbers). Tricks are scored by a predetermined point value for the most points within a 20 second pass; the skier gets two passes per turn. Jump is scored by the distance flown from the ramp.
There are 3 Divisions within disabled/adaptive water skiing, with each division having multiple Categories. Prior to adaptive events, athletes go through a classification process to determine the category in which they’ll compete.
1. Standing Division
a. A1 & A2 - Arm disabilities - the difference between the categories is that the residual limb is allowed to touch the handle in A2
b. L & LP - Leg amputation - the difference between the categories is those in LP category ski with prosthesis
c. A/L1 & A/L2 - significant arm and leg impairment, arm and leg amputation, and hemiplegia - the difference between the categories is level of impairment
2. Vision Impaired Division
a. V1 & V2/3 - the difference between the categories is V1 skiers have no light perception in either eye or inability to recognize the shape of a hand at any distance
3. Seated Division
a. MP1, MP2, MP3, MP4, MP5 - Multiple plegics and those with double leg amputation
b. MP1- Balance and movement are significantly impaired. Skier is unable to hold or maintain holding the handle with hands. Skiers have no trunk rotation and no use of abdominal muscles
c. MP2 - No active trunk rotation and no use of abdominal muscles. Skiers in this class are generally quadriplegics, may be incomplete quadriplegics with more functional ability and high level paraplegics
d. MP3 - upper trunk rotation but poor lower trunk rotation. Skiers in this category generally have mid-level break paraplegia
e. MP4 - good trunk rotation but limited controlled sideways movement. Skiers in this category generally have lower level break paraplegia
f. MP5 - Normal trunk movement in all directions, able to reach side to side with no
limitations. Able to move hips independently. Skiers in this category generally have both legs amputated, those who cannot ski standing and skiers with required minimum disability and who display controlled sideways (hip) movement.
Almost all Team members ski a minimum of two events, most ski three, to increase their chances of being selected for the team, and to contributing team points during World Championships.
Rhonda was a wonderful mother and wife as well as an avid member of the church with a kind and beautiful soul. Rhonda was a truly selfless woman whose love and volunteerism knew no boundaries.
Rhonda worked as a Certified Meeting Planner for the Mel Trotter Ministries providing services for the homeless in West Michigan. Here is their tribute to Rhonda: "Rhonda’s spirit was one of unparalleled care for others. She exemplified selflessness. From making sure our guests secured food, shelter, and programming to making sure her fellow team members received birthday, anniversary, and frequent inspirational thank you cards - Rhonda loved others well. She showed up. She listened. She demonstrated her care and concern for others each and every day in both words and actions, which was exactly in line with her real and strong faith in Jesus."
Rhonda and her family have been highly involved in competitive water skiing. Both Rhonda and her husband Dan are 3 event Senior Judges and Scorers and have officiated at both the national and world levels. They have been avid supporters of adaptive water skiing since 1985. Rhonda served on the Board of Directors for the USA Adaptive Water Ski & Wake Sports Association, where her many positions included President, Board Chair, International Activities Committee Chair, Fundraiser, and so much more. She helped organize both adaptive National and World Championships in Michigan as well as local learn-to-ski clinics. She was always encouraging new adaptive athletes to challenge themselves out on the water. She had a hard time saying no to any water ski related event. She was inducted into the Michigan Water Ski Association's Hall of Fame in 2019 for her exemplary commitment to water skiing.
Rhonda also served as the USA Adaptive Water Ski Team Manager for 7 World Championships where the team earned 5 Gold and 2 Silver medals resulting in worldwide respect and admiration for her work ethic and loving spirit. She served as an appointed Judge or Scorer in 90% of USA's Adaptive Water Ski Nationals. When she was not an official team staff member, she was appointed as an official at the World Adaptive Championships held in Michigan, Florida and Belgium.
We will miss hearing her voice from the shorelines cheering on Team USA. We will miss the guidance she provided for so many of us. We will miss our Dear Rhonda! We thank her for all she did to make this world a better place!
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