How Water Ski Jumping has taught me how to live - Ryan Dodd

Jumping has been my guide, my coach, my driver, and my friend. It’s also been my biggest measure of accountability. In some cases, the lessons have been subtle, almost mysterious, under the radar; in some cases they’ve been drastic, very exposed and graphic, leaving me feeling vulnerable and destroyed.  Any way you look at it, subtle or extreme, it’s important for me to take the life-changing lessons so I can grow. The sport of water ski jumping, hitting the ramp at 70 mph, and flying over 200’, along with my opponents, have been incredibly influential and extraordinary teachers in my life.

Learning and growing is far more important than winning and losing for me. Wins and losses come and go but who I’m becoming has a much longer and more powerful impact in my life, personally and professionally. As a husband and now a father, I have a new fuel and energy source to strive to be my best. The more I learn and experience, suffer, explore, test, and sacrifice, with an open mind, the more I must pass down to my children, as well as up and coming athletes. This is truly my driving force now.

Don’t get me wrong, when the scores are settled, if I lose an event by inches, it feels terrible, especially after getting so used to winning over the last 10 years. It’s just a reminder to continue with my beginner’s mindset, and that I have a lot to learn! I’ve been so blessed to have won a lot of events over the past decade. To continue to evolve as a person and athlete requires a lot of sacrifice, and is often very painful, and intense. 

Without competition, however, I don’t know if I would have the measure of accountability to take risks and push myself in an always changing series of circumstances. Competing forces me to have courage, to ask important questions, to develop self-awareness.

When I’m in the finals on the water going 70 mph at the ramp, It’s just me and the ramp. The energy is going to go somewhere. Either I have the peace, calm, fitness, reaction time, speed, strength, focus and courage to blast through that ramp and work with the forces at hand, or I lose control and the forces dominate me. And to what I believe an infinite degree of this. There’s no limit on how well I can attack the ramp and be in sync with the boat, water, wind, and ramp. There’s also no limit to how much I can get clobbered and beat up with a mistake. It really is a special measure of accountability as a teacher.

Jumping has been my worst enemy and my best friend. It digs out emotions that I never knew existed on both ends of the spectrum. It makes me feel insanely alive at times, while other moments have filled me with immense anger and emotional pain. Jumping truly makes me feel alive, and human. Sometimes even superhuman!

I learned a few lessons at the 2022 Cali Pro Event and I would love to share some of it with you.

The first lesson is about the merging of competition and community. Going to battle on the water in our sport is pretty special. Athletes come together from all walks of life. In the finals of this event the top six were from USA, Chile, Russia, Canada, Austria, and Great Britain. The age range was 19-47 years old. Some were in college, and some have multiple businesses and kids. We have different body types, values, religions, and educational backgrounds. We all show up at this amazing venue to go to battle with and against each other.

What I experienced deep in my heart at this event was special. I finished a very close second to longtime rival, Freddy Krueger.  After I got over the shock of losing (I thought I’d won), I was overwhelmed with a sense of connection (compassion?), empathy, and joy for him as well as all the athletes who choose to this extreme sport.

Freddy impressed the field, the crowd, and the fans with his last jump by going 230’ for the win. I thanked him for what he’s done and still does for our sport. He’s driving us forward, pulling the field ahead and raising the level of excellence in all of us. I was grateful for him and encouraged by his skiing and athletic prowess on the lake. As a fellow athlete and father of two, I understand his sacrifice, discipline, and focus. Knowing what he goes through brings me even more respect.

In this time in history with wars happening around the world, and so many different and polarized political viewpoints, it felt so special to have all that melt away and stand on the podium with one of my best friends, Igor from Russia, and Freddy Krueger from America. In that moment we are all one, all connected in this little waterski world we thrive in.  That weekend in September 2022 was a perfect example of the intense competition and rivalry that brings us closer together as well as teaching us how to live.

Love your opponent, for they’re the key component, they’re what drives greatness. This is a lesson I’ll be sharing with my children.

Thanks for reading, 

Ryan Dodd @rdodd260

Photo - @johnnyhaywardphoto

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