Don Aschenbrenner earlier this month took home his second national water-ski title.
The 52-year-old Cornelius resident won his division in the 72nd GOODE Water Ski National Championships held Aug. 11-16 near San Marcos, Texas, where more than 600 water-ski athletes from across the country competed. He won last year in in Okeeheelee Park, Fla, placed fifth in 2010 and fourth in 2011.
“Winning nationals once is amazing,” said Alex Kiser, 49, an avid skier who often drives the boat for Aschenbrenner in training. “But winning it twice is like winning the lottery. There are just so many variables. It says a lot about his dedication and his ability to focus and stay in the moment. It’s like taking a last-second shot; he has to perform right then.”
Aschenbrenner grew up on Grand Island in New York, where he learned his talent on the Niagara River. With his muscular 5-foot, 10-inch frame, the stock broker competes in the short-line slalom skiing event.
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Here’s how it works: Skiers must pass through the slalom course and maneuver around six buoys. After each pass, the rope is shortened, increasing the difficulty. Skiers continue until they miss a buoy or fall.
The boat runs at a constant 34.2 mph and is controlled by GPS. A skier’s speed often drops below that of the boat while maneuvering around buoys, but it can accelerate up to 60 miles per hour afterward. Most finish the course in 17 seconds or less.
“It takes tremendous strength, stamina and athletic ability,” said Scott Atkinson, editor of The Water Skier magazine and director of communications for USA Water Ski. “The six buoys are 37 1/2 feet from the center of the course. At 38 feet off, the rope no longer reaches to these buoys, and thus the skier has to use his or her body – arm reach – to get around them.”
Aschenbrenner won last year with a score of a half-buoy at 41 feet of rope. This year, in windy conditions, he scored four buoys at 39 1/2 feet of rope.
“Don is a lifelong water skier who fulfilled a dream by winning his first national title last year at the age of 51,” said Atkinson. “The fact that he was able to come back and defend his title this year at a different site speaks volumes to his talent and determination. He is a true inspiration to his peers.”
Aschenbrenner started to ski at age 7, he said, but earlier than that, he remembers riding on his dad’s shoulders while water skiing together.
He entered his first tournament in 1979 but didn’t start excelling until he moved to the Lake Norman area in 1997. With a longer training season and better conditions, he skied more and attended his first national event in 2001, where he tied for 24th. He’s qualified every year since but has only gone about 10 times.
“Repeating as nationals champion was one of several goals for this year,” said Aschenbrenner. “The competition is so high in my age division that repeating is very rare. Any one of the top 15 or more skiers could win.
“I knew I had chance to win again but three other skiers were seeded ahead of me, so my expectations weren’t high.”
The typical skiing season runs from the end of March to mid-November. Aschenbrenner trains up to six days per week. In the off-season, he trains in the gym for as many as four days per week.
“The last few years, I’ve gotten better at self-diagnosing my skiing,” he said. “I have a good sense of what went wrong and how to correct it.”
The GOODE Water Ski National Championships is dubbed the world’s largest three-event water ski tournament. Entrance is primarily earned through placement on the national rankings list. Athletes also qualify for nationals by placing in the top five at regional events or by placing in the top five at the previous year’s nationals.