They Went For The Gold

Publisher Note: I commend this woman for the constant work activities she continues to be a part of in her life. She not only gives to this community, but becomes a huge part of others lives who hold dreams as well. The following is a great story of such dreams, and the local woman who became their leader.
There was a huge gold rush in Australia in 1851. Two months ago I managed a TEAM of 18 (and support crew of 27) who flew down under with gold fever in pursuit of a 5th consecutive TEAM Gold at the World DisAbled Water Ski Championships held at Myuna Bay, New South Wales. (We’re the only country to have earned more than two back to back World Championships.) At the end of the 4 day competition we rolled away with TEAM Silver and 17 individual medals; 8 gold, 4 silver and 5 bronze.
It was a nail biter for Overall with TEAM USA and the Aussies battling it out on the water. We skied great; they skied better and earned TEAM Gold. It was a tough loss, however we shared their joy at earning their first ever Team Gold. The Aussies and the Yanks (as they call us) are great friends off the water and the fiercest of competitors on the water. Our Kerri Vanderbom is married to Aussie Derek Vanderbom so we must cheer for our teammate’s mate; it tickled me to see Derek’s family hold up the American flag and shout it was ONLY for their Kerri! Our spectator tournament presence equaled that of our Australian hosts! We had many American flags along the water’s edge, cowbells for the 50 of us, flag ‘stache tattoos, red, white and blue clothing and much more to show our American pride. It was fun listening to the announcer comment about the Yanks rattling their tin cans and us Yanks shouting “Need more cowbell!”
Fortune hunters from around the globe responded to the 1851 gold rush; this April it was 44 athletes from 10 countries hungering for gold. TEAM USA’s 13 athletes (from 9 states) range in age from 17-59 and went into the tournament having collectively earned 54 individual Gold medals and 43 World Records. Going into the tournament we knew the Aussies had an advantage by it being the end of their ski season. Their skiers had an incredible summer and set/tied a couple World Records. In contrast some of our skiers had only been on the water a few times prior to training camp due to their winter weather conditions, several of our athletes came into training/Worlds with injuries. Our Coach was thrilled to be able to train at the actual competition site and believed we were in good position for a 5 PEAT. Seven of our athletes skied personal bests; we left nothing on the water. Those Aussies were fired up and had some lifetime performances.
“DisAbled” skiing has the same events and rules as able bodied (slalom, tricks, and jumping). Within each event athletes are grouped into the three categories of seated (paraplegics, quadriplegics and double leg amputees), standing (arm and/or leg disabilities with or without prosthesis) and vision impaired (partially or totally blind). Two of our TEAM members have visual impairment, nine use wheelchairs, and two have had limbs amputated. One of the wheel chair users is a 15 year Army Veteran, while our youngest TEAM member was featured in a 1999 Life Magazine article because she was born twice!
These athletes have adapted to what life’s given them and have become better, constantly challenging themselves. It’s amazing that one of our athletes was representing the USA in Olympic ski jumping three years ago. With the Olympic mindset he wasted no time feeling sorry for himself after his paralyzing practice jump. He water skied all his life and started skiing on a sit ski as quickly as his doctors would allow.
Did you know that “disabled” is the world’s largest minority group? It’s also the only minority group that anyone can belong to in an instant! Read that last sentence again please, and think about it. People with disabilities have relationship, financial, career issues like you and I, plus a physical challenge that makes daily life more work. Many of them visit the newly injured in hospitals to let them know life isn’t over, it’s just different. Their attitudes cause me to look at the woman in the mirror a little more closely.
It’s frustrating to be part of a TEAM that’s dominated the sport yet is little known and self funded. The Italians are paid to train and compete; an individual gold earns the athlete $10,000! In contrast USA athletes must pay for their own training camps, air travel, accommodations, uniforms and entry fees at a cost of nearly $5,000 per athlete; they must also pay all but airfare for the Coach, Manager and Physician. When I announced I’d been selected as TEAM Manager my friend Debbie Kauffman (also my youngest’s 6th grade LBE teacher 18 years ago) offered to donate a homemade quilt to raise funds for TEAM USA. It’s the first time a Manager and Coach added fundraising to their duties, and the first year our athletes’ uniforms were donated. World renown and beloved TEAM USA Coach “Matty” Oberholtz arranged for sponsorship from On the Edge Foundation. We raised thousands of dollars selling t-shirts & hoodies along with Facebook drawings for donated prizes ~ my corny/comic videos are famous! Or maybe that’s infamous? More funds were donated from Los Banos ($5/person) than any other community in the country! The Rotary Club in the city of each TEAM Member was asked to sponsor a uniform …only the Los Banos Rotary did so. Tony Dutra told me to write something and offered the lounge for a fundraiser that didn’t come to fruition. My C21 work family was amazing, helping with drawings, packaging uniforms and helping me ship shirts across the USA.
Of the 325,867,586 people in the US, only a select few earn the right to wear a TEAM USA uniform. Having been an advocate and volunteer for adaptive water skiers for 23 years I’m honored to serve as the 2017 US DisAbled Water Ski TEAM Manager, also representing my country and my beloved Los Banos. It was two of the greatest weeks in my life.
Although I’ve yet to be selected (or apply for) the 2019 Manager position, I am raising funds for the ’19 Worlds to be held in either France or Norway. TEAM USA appreciates your $upport (checks payable to WSDA or Water Skiers with Disabilities Association). You can also donate online and learn more about TEAM USA at If you have a disability, or know someone with a disability contact me to help get them on the water.
Sitting in our lodge one night I focused on a 32 year old man sitting alone on the couch not interacting with anyone. He has visual impairment, can’t hear out of one ear and has about 20% hearing in the other. He also has active nerve cancer (the cause of his impairments) for which there is no cure or treatment. He’s been dealing with this since was 9 years old. It has gradually taken his vision and his hearing.
He doesn’t know sign language or read Braille. He is employed and lives alone. He is also an athlete representing his country in an International Sporting Competition. He can’t change what has/is happening to him. All he has control over is what he does with what he has to work with. He opts to Go for the Gold, whether or not he earns the Gold. Should we feel sorry for Ryan? Inspired by Ryan? Or maybe challenged by Ryan? Perspective. Each of our lives will end. Let’s look ourselves in the eyes in our mirrors and ask if we’re Going for the Gold … whatever that means for each of us.