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Navigating 50 States as a Deaf Barefoot Water Skier

Deaf Barefoot Water Skier

When I turned 50, I wanted to do something epic to celebrate my fifth decade.

After a couple of exciting years of rediscovering my passion for barefoot water skiing, I had hit a plateau and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. My father-in-law told me, “Your fifties are great: the kids don’t need you as much anymore, and you have more time on your hands.”

My three deaf and hard-of-hearing kids were pretty much on their own and so, the hubby and I found ourselves with more time on our hands, just like my father-in-law said. I was itching to do something, but I wasn’t sure what…

A new challenge

I happened to pick up a book by Chris Guillebeau, “The Happiness of Pursuit.” In his book, Chris describes his quest to travel to every country in the world. In the process, he discovered that the journey during a quest is what brought happiness, and a sense of purpose. 

In an excerpt from his book, he writes:

As I wandered the planet, spending years journeying to nearly two hundred countries, I discovered something important.I loved the travel, and everywhere I went had something interesting on offer. My worldview was broadened as I encountered different ways of life and learned from people in other cultures. But equally fascinating was that I wasn’t the only one on a quest. All over the world, people had discovered the same way of bringing greater purpose to their life. Some had been toiling away at a goal for years without any recognition. Going for it, whatever ‘it’ was, was simply something they found meaningful and loved to do.

Itching for a quest

When I finished his book, I realized I was itching for a quest. I wanted something to pursue. Something to aim for, and I wanted to have tremendous fun in the process. In a moment of inspiration, I came up with my quest: I wanted to barefoot water ski in all 50 states of America.

The origin of my passion

So, here’s where I should back up the story and explain how my passion for barefoot water skiing came about.

Way back, many, many moons ago, I wanted to be just like my older brother Kenny, who could walk on water. It took me many, many tries, but I learned to water ski on my bare feet when I was a teen.

Barefoot water skiing is definitely a guy’s sport, for few women were willing to continuously slam into the water at 37-40 mph. But hey, when a passion hits you out of nowhere, you have no choice but to respond. I loved the thrill of water skiing on my bare feet. I barefoot water skied every chance I could get.

But, one day, I turned to cross the wake and tripped.

I slammed into the water.

When I climbed into the boat, I could no longer hear my friends’ voices. I had instantly become deaf. That very night, tinnitus set in. 

It was a dark time in my life. I spent a lot of nights crying myself to sleep. I spent the days crying in the shower so that no one would hear me. Then one morning, I woke up and realized I had two choices: I could continue down the same dark path or I could accept the journey and become the best possible deaf person I could be. A deaf barefoot water skier.

I chose the latter.  It’s been quite the journey ever since! 

Back on the Water Again

At age 44, I put my feet back on the water, thanks to Judy Myers, the world’s oldest female competitive barefoot water skier. Today, Judy is 73 and I’m 51, and every year we barefoot water ski together in Florida. Judy taught me that you’re never too old to unwrap a passion.Deaf Barefoot Water Skier

And here’s another lesson: when you’re clear about your passions, people  and opportunities will show up. In my quest to barefoot water ski in 50 states, this has certainly been true. When I shared my quest on Facebook, people began offering their boats for a pull. 

This summer, I barefoot water skied in Missouri, New Hampshire, and Colorado. 

Let me say this: it isn’t easy getting in a boat with people you’ve never met, especially if you don’t know if you can lipread them. 

In Missouri, I met up with my brother Brian and he introduced me to his friend Brian Tellma, who is an attorney. We spent not one, but two days on the water together. My brother Brian is deaf, so the other Brian was quite used to slowing down his speech and facing him. 

A few weeks later, I went back down to Missouri, this time to my family’s hometown of Ste. Genevieve. I met up with Seth Burgett, founder of YurBuds and owner of Gateway Bronco. He was hosting a barefooting clinic with the 6X World Barefoot Champion David Small.  This was even more of a challenge, as we had a full boat of skiers of all ages. There was no way to keep up with the conversation of so many, but the barefooting was great. 

The next stop was New Hampshire, where I met up with Claude and Jackie St. Onge, parents of 2X World Barefoot Champion Keith St. Onge. The St. Onges connected me with the Leclerc family and we spent an afternoon skiing together. Claude is 62 years old, but he’s like a teenager on the water. It’s really inspiring to hang out with people who are further along the life path yet enjoying every bit of it. 

For the final state of this year, I headed over to Loveland, Colorado to ski with Theresa Hoffman. Her husband, Scott, had just been released from the hospital after a recent surgery. They are both die-hard, tough barefoot water skiers. For five years in a row, they skied every single month out of the year. Yes, even in the snow in frigid water! Barefoot junkies, for sure. The ever-tough Scott insisted on driving us. He had a huge smile on his face despite the pain he was obviously enduring. 

Communication is always a challenge on the road with new people, but I’ve learned that most people are extremely patient and nice. The key is to explain the hearing challenges and outline what has to happen for conversation to flow smoothly. When worse comes to worse, I can always pull out my iPhone and activate Siri if we’re stuck on a word or a sentence. 

If you’ve always wanted to try a quest or something outside of your comfort zone–go for it. It will be challenging, it may be hard at times, but in the end, the reward is worth it. You’ll have memories to last a lifetime.