Wake sport enthusiasts help people with disabilities ride the waves

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

JANESVILLE--Nobody wants to sit on the dock.

On Tuesday, nobody had to sit on the dock. Instead, they went blasting through the water, the wake spreading around them, making great curling Vs through the Rock River near Traxler Park.

The event was a water ski clinic for people with disabilities and their coaches. It also marked the first day of the US Wake Sports Festival and the 2017 United States Hydrofoil Nationals.

On Wednesday, water skiers who want to give hydrofoiling a try can sign up for a clinic. On Thursday, competitors will do practice runs in the river in preparation for Friday competition.

Finals will be Saturday. After the awards ceremony Saturday will be a jump competition. Lights have been added to the river so participants can ski later into the evening.

A hydrofoil is a triangular wing attached with a long, aerodynamic post to the bottom of a surf board, water-ski type board or a wakeboard. The hydrofoil lifts the rider and his or her board several feet above the water.

On Tuesday, however, people were taking to the water in a variety of modified ski systems.

Some allowed the users to sit in a chair-like contraption that allowed them to steer.

Others reclined and didn't need to do much expect enjoy the ride.

There were skis for people with prosthetic legs and a variety of other adaptive equipment to help people get off the dock and out onto the water.

The Rock Aqua Jays and their boat drivers were there to help, as were people from the Aquanuts Adaptive Program and the Water Skiers with Disabilities Association.

Some participants, such as Nicole Sauder of Chicago, just went up on two skis.

Sauder, who teaches special education, is visually impaired and has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disease, but she's involved in rock climbing and downhilll skiing. While she waited Tuesday for her turn on the water, she did yoga stretches on the dock.

She loves the speed of water-skiing, a sentiment echoed by other participants.

While Sauder skied up and down the length of the course repeatedly, Noah Gorecki, 10, got a single, long loop. Seated upright and holding a tow rope, Goecki's mouth opened into a surprised smile the moment the boat picked up enough speed to create the rolling wake. With that big grin plastered across his face, Gorecki proceeded to steer himself across the waves.

"I liked going over the waves," Gorecki reported. "It felt like we were going, like, 50 mph."

It was actually only like 15 mph, but with the waves and the water and the wind in his face, it felt like more.

Gorecki was using forearm crutches. He usually has a prosthetic for his missing shin and foot, but it was important it didn't get wet, he explained.

Vincen Liddle of Iowa was there to coach and ski.

Liddle is the president of SportAbility of Iowa, an organization committed to bringing sports to people with disabilities. Liddle uses a wheelchair but plays softball and basketball and is involved in mountain bike racing and competitive water-skiing.

Along with taking a turn in the water, he'll be attending a clinic for coaches.

His motto is "adapt and overcome."

"It's about the ability to push your limits without putting yourself in harms way," Liddle said.

Getting people with disabilities involved in sports is a way to increase their confidence and connect them with other people, said Garrett Adams of the Aquanuts Water Shows team of Twin Lakes. He runs the team's adaptive program.

"There are people who never have the opportunity to do something this active," Adams said.

Even if their families go to the lake, they end up sitting on the dock.

"Anytime you can conquer something this complicated, it will give you confidence," Adams said.

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