Water Skiers Take a Leap of Faith in Sandy Hook

Water skiing is a sport of speed.

"This kind of completes my adrenaline addiction," said Joe Shortt of Southbury.

"You can't explain it, you really can't.  You just feel free," said Donna Gackenheimer of Long Island.

"You can feel the water underneath your skis.  Get the wind in your face and get going pretty fast," said Alex Snow of Newtown.

So, as often as they can, a group gathers in Sandy Hook to walk on water.

"I was a little bit afraid at first when I first started," said Snow.

Alex Snow has now been skiing for about ten years. Learning has its challenges but everyone here will tell you it's worth the work.

"Water skiing is really a lot about getting past that first thump of getting up and then it's really up to you how far you want to go," said Marc Romero of Colorado.

"It builds my self-confidence," said Gackenheimer.

There’s a good reason for that.  If you take a closer look at the people riding the waves, you’ll notice something usual.

There's Alex Snow:

"I was born almost totally blind," said Snow.

 Joe Shortt:

"I was paralyzed by a drunk driver back in 2002.  I got hit over in Southbury," said Shortt.

Marc Romero:

"I lost my leg in a motorcycle accident," said Romero.

And Donna Gackenheimer:

"My ankles are fused.  I was born with something called arthrogryposis."

This ski club is called Leaps of Faith, founded by Joel Zeisler back in 1991.

"Sometimes I actually forget that I'm working with people with major disabilities,” said Zeisler.

Zeisler says he really hasn't encountered a person yet, he can't teach to ski.

Some ski standing, even on one leg. Others sit solo and then there are those who have side skiers for support.

"To me it beats being out on a tennis court or golf course or sitting in front of a TV and that's what some of the disabled people have been limited to some degree doing," said Zeisler.

But not anymore.

"”The first time I put the life jacket on I was just like wow," said Shortt.

"You come here and everyone's treated the same.  We all have different disabilities but everyone fits in and it's just amazing," said Gackenheimer.

For a few moments when they're on the water their disability no longer dictates the direction of their life.

"I would say give it a try, just the feeling, the rush.  If you're going fast you're on the water, the wind's in your face.  If you fall, you fall.  It’s water," said Snow.

"I get out there and I don't ever want to come back in," said Shortt.


Leaps of Faith and Gaylord Rehab Hospital are teaming up for a Wounded Warriors adaptive sports weekend August 13-16 at Batterson Park in Farmington.

The event is for service members permanently disabled in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts.

For more information contact: 203-284-2772.

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