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World record holder ends famed water skiing career

How old were you when you first started to get interested in Waterskiing?
I was 4 when my parents introduced me to water skiing. I started competing at the age of 5 and just fell in love with it.

2.When did it turn from just a hobby into something more serious?

Skiing was just something we did as a family. We had a family boat and several families would go out with us on the Pamlico River of Bath, NC. We would all take turns skiing. I just loved it. My dad would bribe me with toys when I would learn new tricks but I just had a passion for it myself. He always taught me to go out there and beat Kristi every time I took to the water, so I always had the passion to get better and to learn something from every session…even at the age of 5! By the age of 8-9 I was at a national level and my parents started sending me to ski school in Florida over the holidays to learn new things, hear new coaching, and to have some warmer climate to train in. I guess the major turn was in 1982 when my father built me my own lake to train in without the disturbance of other boaters, the stings of jelly fish, the choppiness of a large river. When you have a lake named after you….well, you just have to go out and ski everyday

photo In His Wakes

3. When and why did you decide to retire?
The decision to make an official retirement didn't come easy. Skiing has been my life! I started when I was 4, skied in my first Masters in 1983 at the age of 13, and skied in my last tournament July 2003. The last 2 years of competitions were very tough for me. No longer could I go out and give it my all. I was physically a wreck and emotionally somewhere else.
I was born with a congenital hip condition where my hip sockets never developed. I knew I was going to have to have this condition corrected at the age of 15, but my family and I didn't have a peace about doing the extensive surgery. SO....I skied till I could ski no more. Throughout the years, I gave up tricks, and jump (didn't have to put a lot of thought into that as I was scared to death hitting that ramp!)Last year my body could go no more.

I was told by several doctors that if I didn't have the reconstruction I would have a double hip replacement at the rip old age of 35. Knowing I was in the middle of an adoption of 2 children and already having trouble keeping up with my 7 year old, my husband and I made the decision to go ahead and do the surgery. I met an amazing doctor from Boston and I flew up to Boston Children's Hospital and had the procedure, called an osteotomy (you can see pictures on skifly.com if they are still there). Basically they went in and cut my pelvis in six spots and rotated my hip sockets sideways to create a covering for the femoral head. To say the least, it was a tough year.


Overton-Johnson has won nearly every Women’s slalom title imaginable, including the 1999 PanAmerican Games and Water Ski World Championships. She is a four-time U.S. Open champion and sixtime Masters’ champion. I spent 6 months on crutches, went through 8 blood transfusions, spent a great deal of time in a wheelchair last year and was taken care of by my family at every level. It was a humbling year for someone who likes to go and do for herself!

After recovering from the first surgery (surgery was Jan 04) I knew that it would be difficult to come back physically. I remember sitting at the Masters banquet and listening to Andy give his retirement speech and I knew in my heart that it wouldn't be long before I would be doing the same, but I had to be sure. So, I had the second hip operated on in July and then I had all the hardware removed in November. I have had extensive rehab and will be recovering for quite a while but from the way my body feels, it is obvious that it has reached it's limit. There is no way, without total sacrifice and a huge miracle that I could ever compete at the same level I was at 3-4 years ago.


Have you ever had any serious injuries?

I have been blessed not to have too many series “injuries” from skiing but I cannot say that I have been physical pain free. From the daily training and pushing myself to my bodies limit, I have severe back pain, I have had to have a neck fusion because of the constant strain on my neck. I was born with a congenital hip disorder and had to have 3 major surgeries in 04 to create hip sockets. In addition to those surgeries, I have had 3 bowel obstructions (very serious), appendectomy, c-section, wrist surgery.

Once you have reached a certain level, it isn't fun to go out and compete when you are way off your potential. That is how I competed for the last two years of my career, a pass or two off what I could run. I got to where I couldn't even try 39 anymore because of the hip and back pain (all related). I would try 38 a few times before a tournament, but I had to save it all for the tourneys. It is hard to go to a tournament knowing that you cannot do what you know you can do. I never skied to "win" per se, I always skied to ski the best I could and when I did that, I was content. When I couldn't do that anymore, I grew frustrated.

4. How many women are on the Pro circuit?
They often limit the amount which can enter a given tournament and some events are invitation only…but generally, there are 12-18 women on tour.

In addition to the physical pain, the frustration of not being able to compete at the same level, my life is also too busy to focus 100% on my training. My husband and I adopted 2 children from a Russian orphanage in May. Having three children has me running around in a minivan in all directions!

Finally, the main reason for the retirement is that the passion is gone. God blessed me so much in this sport and with His help, I was able to achieve everything I set out to accomplish in this sport. It was an awesome 30 years of skimming across the waters of the world but about 3 years ago, God started taking that passion away from competitive skiing and started putting that passion into pouring my life into other people. He laid on my heart to start and run a ministry called In His Wakes. Basically, we use water skiing to impact people's lives in an amazing way. We introduce people to the sport that would NEVER have the opportunity to ride in a boat, swim in a lake, much less ski...and we spend the day with them teaching them to do these things and also sharing our life stories with them. I have never done anything more fulfilling in my life. TO see a child, not to mention an abused child, stand by the waters edge and tell me how frightened they are, only to see them skiing across the lake 30 minutes later is an amazing feeling. Those kids leave the lake with their lives changed because of their experience on the water and the message of hope we share with them. We put medals around their necks that are inscribed "Champions in God's eyes" and remind them God has a plan for their lives. We hear stories how these kids where their medals for months, even to school! And we see these children transformed before our very eyes. We so often take for granted, I know I did, the opportunities we are afforded. Sharing the experiences I have had on the water is where my passion is now and it is all I want to do.

Why did you announce your retirement at the Masters?

I started skiing at the Masters in 1983 and skied in my last one in 2002 with a win in women's slalom. The Masters is the most prestigious tournament in the world and I was blessed to win 2 trick titles (1985,85) and 6 slalom titles. There are so many memories there....read more

5. What's the one thing you're most looking forward to in your skiing retirement?
Not having to ski when the weather is cold! I am enjoying going out in the boat with Tim, Ty, Dalton and Ivy every afternoon, running some 32's for fun, climbing on the tub with them, and watching them enjoy the water and the boat. It is how I started...on the water with my family and the memories I have are something I want to pass on to my family. I love not having the stress of the tourney's any more...having to have the ski dialed in, worrying if the ski should be set up another way. The last couple of years were nothing but trying new skis and changing settings....yuck! Just give me old faithful, throw on a fin that cannot move and I am happy! Just let me ski without a lot of thinking!

6.What advice would you give to girls and women that would like to take up the sport?
What advice would you give to girls and women that would like to take up the
sport? Find someone who is willing to share their resources (boat, lake) and who will take the time to spend with you on the water. It is definitely a team effort (even though it is a individual sport…it cannot be done alone). Find some local tournaments through USA Water Ski and International Novice Tournament League and go and check them out. You’ll see the different sides of the sport and meet people who are at the grass roots level of it…join them! You can get some great info from these two organization and get matched up with local skiers.

For more information on Kristi Overton-Johnson or In His Wakes, visit www.kristioverton.com


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