At the edge of Clear Lake on Saturday, two swimmers helped a boy into the “cage,” a chair frame mounted on a wide, teal-colored pair of skis. Zack Edge, 13, was one of the first swimmers of the day to try out water skiing.
Having received the go-ahead, volunteers lowered their orange flag – the signal indicating swimmers in the water – and the motorboat sped away from the dock, pulling Edge behind it.
Edge, who has cerebral palsy, made the trip around the lake with a smile on his face. He said when he first tried skiing four years ago, he was a bit apprehensive, but once he got on the water, he found it thrilling.
“Every time I go out there, it’s amazing,” he said.
Edge was one of a number of people of varying ability levels gathered on the shores of Clear Lake for the annual St. Luke’s Ski Fest. Candice Belcourt, one of the organizers of the event and a sports and recreation coordinator at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, said about 20 participated in skiing or tubing and around 55 family members, friends and volunteers attended.
She said the event, which runs both Saturday and today, is open to anyone with any disability. Many of the patients who attended Saturday had spinal injuries, and today, she said, patients from the brain injury and stroke units at St. Luke’s were expected.
She said that in order to ensure the event is safe, two personal watercrafts with a driver and a jumper accompany every motorboat and skier. She said for some participants, it’s important to have jumpers who can recognize their individual issues.
For skier Aubrey Woods, his brother Steven has volunteered as his jumper for the last 16 years. As a jumper, it’s Steven’s job to dive after Aubrey if he loses his balance or becomes too tired to continue.
The boys’ father, Kelly Woods, accompanies Aubrey on a personal watercraft when he skis. Kelly Aubrey said he loves the community that has grown up around the event, adding that many participants, families and volunteers have attended for years and have watched each others’ children grow up.
Erika Bacner, an occupational therapy student from Eastern Washington University, said she’s tried many water sports, but she appreciates how organizers have structured the event, including multiple safety volunteers, and brought the type of equipment to make skiing accessible to everyone.
She said she also appreciates how the volunteers, family and patients come together every year to create an environment in which people with different ability levels can try water sports safely.
“It’s a really cool community to be invited to work with,” she said.
Zack Edge’s mother, Sarah Edge, said they’ve been participating for years, and she loves being able to give him an opportunity to play in the water.
“It’s amazing for him to get out and go experience all this,” she said. “Feel the wind on his face and to fly around on the lake.”
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