By Dawn Ziegler ~
I never get tired of the smiles! It’s even more special when the smiles come from kids with special needs who are out participating in an activity they never knew was possible. And I was lucky enough to witness it all at the Snappin’ Ministries Family Picnic & Adaptive Water Ski Day.
Barb Dittrich, Executive Director and Founder of Snappin’ Ministries, is always searching for fun, uplifting adventures for their quarterly family outings. After meeting over lunch with Kurt Roskopf, Director of Adaptive Water Skiing for the Wisconsin Water Ski Federation, plans were in motion to bring something totally new to their summer picnic.
Snappin’ Ministries is a non-profit organization based in Oconomowac, WI, that provides a support network to parents and family members of children with special needs. After giving birth to a child diagnosed with hemophilia and going through the struggles of countless visits to the hospital, rising financial burdens, and lack of support, Barb and her husband turned to their church for guidance. Connecting with another family who had a child who was wheelchair-bound, they found a lot could be learned through their shared experiences. So Barb began Snappin’ Ministries as a place for parents who have a child with a chronic illness, disability or cognitive challenge to help each other through their difficult journeys.
Aside from providing support through mentoring, care baskets, respite, and shared resources, Snappin’ holds quarterly family events to bring parents together with their entire family. So at their summer family picnic, with the help of Kurt Roskopf, they had their first introduction to adaptive waterskiing!
The picnic was held at the beautiful Fowler Lake in Oconomowac, Wisconsin. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect…mostly sunny, low 80s with a gentle breeze.
After lunch they started getting setup for waterskiing. They didn’t need much to make this happen: two boats, an adapted water ski with outriggers, life preservers, various wet suits, and two sets of skis for the guides. Kurt and his wife Sue were the experienced water skiers. The two boat drivers, Rick Legois from Brown Lake Aquaducks and Mike Krause from Pewaukee Lake Ski Club, were busy rigging the motor boats. Several volunteers were also there setting up the equipment at the pier. They were ready!
Since Kurt took the position as Director of the Adaptive Water Skiing Division, he has made it his goal to promote the activity and the therapeutic benefits of the sport. He has worked with many programs like Adaptive Adventures (Chicago, IL), Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (Lake Forest, IL), Colsac Skiers (Lake Wisconsin), Brown Lake Aquaducks Water Ski Show Team (Burlington, WI), and U Can Ski (Winter Haven, FL). Both Kurt and Sue have also been a part of the Pewaukee Lake Ski Club for several years performing ski shows on Thursday evenings throughout the summers.
On this warm summer day, they brought their knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport to these kids and their families. It was a life altering experience.
As I sat on the pier observing, I could feel the excitement building. I don’t know who were more anxious, the kids or their parents. None of the children had ever watered skied before, and I’m sure most of their parents didn’t know it was even a possibility.
A couple of kids came down to get suited up while the others looked on with hesitation. The first girl who had been waiting for this all day strolled down to the pier with her walker. After being fitted with a life preserver, a volunteer scooped her up and lifted her down into the water.
Her mom looked on anxiously as they got her positioned into the bucket seat, called a cage, that’s secured to the top of a wide ski. Her feet were placed under a strap to keep them in place. The tow line that pulls the water ski is wedged into the front tip of the ski which gives her the option of holding on to the tow line or not depending on her hand and arm strength and confidence. For added stability outrigger skis were attached to the sides of the main ski to prevent her from tipping over, two guide skiers were positioned on each side with lines that allowed them to control the adaptive ski, and a chase boat was used to follow the skiers as well.
As the last adjustments were made and Sue and a volunteer were in position, the first skier was ready to go! Sue gave the “Go” command to Kurt who stayed with the lead boat to man the lines and give direction to the driver. With the humming roar of the boat, the three skiers simultaneously rose out of the water. Cheers came from the shore as we all watched this young lady take her first lap around the lake. She was waterskiing!!
Passing the pier, they began to head off for their second lap. As they all waved to us, everyone could see her smile as big as the sun. And that smile was contagious because as each child took to the water, another one came down to wait his/her turn.
I have been a part of other adaptive water ski programs and the reactions from the first-time skiers are usually the same…pure joy! Today, however, had an extra special outcome…seeing the emotions pour out of the parents as they eagerly watched their children circle the lake, waving back at them full of life and without the burdens of their own personal challenges. For that afternoon, there were no disabilities or illnesses present, only kids having worry-free fun!
There are many opportunities to experience adaptive waterskiing in Wisconsin and the surrounding areas. Every year it seems like more programs are emerging. For more information on Adaptive Water Skiing events for the summer of 2015, contact Kurt Roskopf at (262) 253-6509 or (262) 720-7031, or visit the Wisconsin Water Ski Federation at: http://www.waterski.org/.
To learn more about the support provided by Snappin’ Ministries, visit their website at http://www.snappin.org/.
Photo credits go to Tom Jewell Photography (http://www.thomjewell.net/)