What's it like to ski jump 76.2 metres on water skis? Ask world record holder Ryan Dodd, who did exactly that — despite growing up in a land-locked Alberta town and learning the sport in a cow pasture.
Dodd, who grew up in Olds, is back in the province where he learned the sport, competing at the 2017 Nautique Canadian water ski national championships at Predator Bay south of Calgary this week.
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Dodd has been jumping since he was a 10 year old growing up in Olds, he said Thursday in an interview with The Homestretch.
"It's insane," Dodd says. "I've done it forever. The adrenalin and excitement I get when I first started going off the ramp 20 feet isn't a whole lot different than I get now, going 250 feet, but once you actually do hit over 60 metres (200 feet), that's when it starts to feel like flying.
"I basically try to create the sensation combining the angle of my chest, my upper body and my skis," he says. "And when I hit it right, I feel like an airplane wing.
"I was probably 12, 14 metres (40, 50 feet) high on that (record-setting) jump "and I truly felt like I was flying."
Six years ago, however, Dodd's journey took a decidedly wrong turn when he suffered a severe head injury that almost derailed his water ski jumping career.
"I had a fractured skull and some bleeds on my brain and I was out for eight months. At that point, the verdict was that I wouldn't likely be skiing again but I had a great recovery. For a few years, I didn't feel the same, but I took it one step at a time and worked my way back slowly."
Homemade lake on cow pasture
One thing that emerges from a discussion with Dodd is that water ski jumping has always been an intensely family affair.
"My Dad got to the point where he was nationally ranked, and then (eventually) a national champion," he says. "And when I was 10, just starting out, he said hey, you want to do this?
"He ended up building a dam on our cow pasture (near Olds)," he says, "and in the spring, when we had the runoff, we actually had a lake almost a mile long, so we had a pretty cool setting on our own property."
It still shocks fans and competitors to discover that the world record holder is a prairie boy, he says.
"It doesn't make much sense," he says. "If I only went out on the nice, sunny days — there are only 15 or 20 in Canada (every summer) — it would have been hard, but I skied every single day, rain or shine, whatever we had going on, and I worked with the right people. From my Dad, I had the work ethic of a farmer. When it's crunch time in Alberta, and you've only got a few nice days a year, you take advantage of it."
With files from The Homestretch