So you’ve got a few aches and pains. You’re getting older. You have difficulty walking. You’re facing some health challenges. Does this mean you have to give up your passion?
Jim Boyette passionately loves the sport of barefoot water skiing. At 87 years old, he’s the world’s oldest barefoot competitor. Today is his birthday, but he won’t be able to take a celebratory birthday run on the water just yet. “I have an infection in the tear ducts of my right eye for the second time and had to have it lanced and drained yesterday,” Jim explained. “It is due to a long-ago broken nose, which causes the bone in my nose to block the tear duct and it’s necessary to have an operation to scrape away some of the bone. I should be able to do a delayed celebration ski though.”
Jim continues to walk on water despite facing adversity time and time again. In 2007, he noticed a numbing in his feet and hands. He was diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth Neuropathy, a degenerative disorder that atrophies the muscles in the feet and hands. In 2009, he was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. It took 20 radiation treatments to put it in remission and throughout it all, Jim continued to barefoot water ski. Along came skin cancer. Jim didn’t let the conditions slow him down, nor did he stop competing. “Sometimes my feet feel like two pieces of wood, but that hasn’t stopped me yet,” said Jim.
I met Jim at my first National barefoot tournament in 2011 and I was quickly inspired by him. Despite having great difficulty in putting on a wetsuit and walking to the starting dock, Jim still took a flying leap off the dock and stood up skiing away. Jim picked up the sport of barefooting at the age of 45–back in 1973,when the sport was still recreational. Over the years, he gave up baseball and bowling, but continued to train for tournaments. In fact, Jim is one of two barefoot water skiers who have competed in every National Barefoot Tournament since the first one in 1978. That’s right, he has not missed a single tournament despite numerous health challenges, including a busted ear drum just a few days before the 2014 Nationals. He plugged his ear up with putty and skied in the tournament. Along the way, he racked up a grand total of 64 medals, 21 Overalls, and set 31 records. He learned barefoot jumping–flying off an 18-inch ramp– at the age of 50 and continued to jump until he was 64. This is quite remarkable, when you consider that barefoot water skiing is an extreme sport and barefoot jumping is often reserved for the younger crowd.
Jim continues to set goals and make plans. “My goal for the next couple of years is to last… to survive…and still be able to compete– as long as I can. I’m lucky if I can ski without passing out,” he chuckles.
Jim’s friend and fellow barefooter, 71–year-old Al Hager, once figured out Jim’s secret to beating out all the competition: “Just live longer than anyone else.”
Karen Putz is an author, speaker, and Passion Mentor who helps others unwrap their passions at any age. For fun, she walks on water with the assistance of a rope, boat, and driver. Connect with Karen via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and her website: Ageless Passions.