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The typical image of a water ski show performer is often a young teen swiveling around on a ski or climbing to the top of a four-tiered pyramid. Then there’s Diane Engberg, who started her show skiing career at a “late” age.
Diane’s first memory of water skiing goes back to when she was nine years old. She was on vacation in the Ozarks when her uncle pulled her out of the water on skis on her first try. At that very instant she loved the sport, but she didn’t take it up again until she was in her 30’s.
“We moved near a lake and I had a friend with a boat,” Diane recalled. “In my mid-forties, I joined a group of women in show skiing for a small show. We didn’t have much talent but we got up at seven a.m. each morning to practice.”
At the age of 47, Diane was introduced to swivel skiing when a well-known coach offered lessons. “I was really awful at it that first day,” Diane said. “The next year, I signed up for lessons again. I hit myself in the head with the ski. I almost gave up. I was the slowest person there, but deep down, I loved it.”
The following year, Diane took swivel lessons from Cheryl Orloff, a multiple-time All American and National Swivel Ski Champion who was inducted into the Water Ski Hall of Fame. After a few training lessons, Diane entered her first tournament. The competition consisted of a dock dance, a water presentation, and a final dance, all in five minutes. Diane didn’t do as well as she hoped. “I was petrified at the first tournament, I had no confidence whatsoever. I was terrified I would fall and I did, but I was determined to stick with it and improve.”
Diane’s passion for swivel skiing grew as she entered competition after competition. Ten years later, at the age of 57, she is now a regular performer at the Tampa Bay Ski Show each week.
Diane and I crossed paths through Facebook. I was intrigued right away–after all, we shared similar challenges of being “older” in sports geared toward the younger crowd. My sport is barefoot water skiing, a sport that moves at a high speed. Diane’s sport played out at a much slower speed, but required even more stamina and balance to remain upright on a ski during maneuvers. After watching Diane glide gracefully across the water while spinning around, I decided to give it a ride one afternoon.
I met up with Diane, Cheryl (48), and another show skier, Kathy Mcclintock (59). Just watching them on the water, it was easy to see their passion for the sport and the pure joy of being on the water. The three of them have skied many shows together, often inspiring many other athletes to get back on the water or to try water sports for the first time.
My first time on a swivel ski was not exactly graceful, but I really enjoyed learning something totally new to me. Thankfully, I was able to get up on the ski and do some basic moves. My short time on the ski made me realize that the gracefulness of champion swivel skiers requires an incredible amount of strength and poise to make it all look so easy. Cheryl was the first woman to accomplish an overhead 1080 turn–raising the handle above her head and spinning around three times. She also helped to construct and ski in the first four-tier pyramid.
Diane, Cheryl, and Kathy are a wonderful reminder of a great lesson, that we don’t have to resign our passion to the shorelines as we become older. In fact, Diane shared some really wise words with me:
“When did we stop playing as kids? As adults, our everyday responsibilities seem to take over over and one day we forget to play. We give so much to others and forget what it takes to make our hearts and souls sing. I think each of us needs to find what it is that is our passion.”
Go out and find yours.