A tribute to the Water Walkers

Written on July 10th, 2015

“Who are we? THE WATER WALKERS! And what do we do? WATER SKI!”

This cheer has become a staple of not only my summers but my entire childhood.

Every single show, just before we close off the night with our final pyramid, my ski team shouts these words at the top of our lungs towards the stage. It’s been a tradition for as long as I can remember, and even though it’s simple, I hold it close to my heart.

It’s funny how two short questions can remind you who you are.

I stumbled upon the Central Wisconsin Water Ski Show Team when I was seven via one of my mom’s coworkers.

My parents brought me to a land practice where I climbed upwards of twenty feet to the top of a pyramid, and just like that I was hooked. In the ten and a half years since the Water Walkers have become an enormous part of my identity.

I ski four days a week with my teammates, performing shows from June through Labor Day but practicing even earlier if we get the chance. My first few years on the team my parents spent more time warming me up with a copious amount of towels and blankets than I actually spent skiing — Wisconsin water gets cold!

Since those early days I’ve grown in more ways than one. I built our team’s website from scratch and continue to manage it. I’m able to ski on my own now, no bracing required. I have enough body mass to stay warm. I know how to lock out my abs and when to let go of the rope when you fall.

But it’s so much more than all of those technicalities — in the last decade, I’ve transformed as a person.

I credit the Water Walkers with an enormous part of my development. I grew up with them, and they grew up with me. It’s thanks to my ski team, and especially to our long-time show director Janelle Gokey, that I’ve evolved from a seven year old girl too nervous to order her own Subway sandwich into a college student preparing to take on the world.

The ski team has taught me how to handle conflict and battle jealousy. I’ve learned the value of honesty and the importance of effective communication. High speeds and big waves can complicate things, and being able to handle myself on the water has directly translated into being able to handle myself on land.

I’ve survived a broken arm, countless bruises, and at least a half dozen neck X-rays. I’ve become resilient both physically and mentally. I’ve honed persistence, and I’ve practiced kindness. I’ve learned what it means to do your part and carry your own weight. I understand sacrifice.

And thanks to the Water Walkers, I know more about trust as an eighteen year old than some people ever do in their lives.

It hasn’t always been easy. There have been bumps, and tears, and nights where the last thing I want to do is drive a half hour to a practice where I feel like I’m just going to fail. But every last thing that has happened in these past ten years has been worth it.

I’m far from the most talented skier on the team, but I hope that I am at least one of the most appreciative. No matter what happens, the Water Walkers will always be my family — dysfunctional, loving, irreplaceable.

Today my childhood officially comes to a close as I turn eighteen. I know there’s a lot of change coming, but I also know that the lessons and insight I’ve gained from the Water Walkers will continue to serve me well every day.

I have been blessed to be a part of something so amazing for so long, and I only have two questions with which to leave you, questions that I plan on asking myself at every stage in my life to make sure I’m where I belong:

Who am I? And what do I do?