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Triumph on the water
When a local rancher lost his leg, he took up waterskiing and proved that he could not only overcome his disability, but became a world-class skier
Jeff Hancock stands on the dock by the lake on Tognoli’s property. Hancock is wearing his ranch boots, having just finished cutting hay on the ranch. In his spare time, he slalom skis on the lake every chance that he can.
October 11, 2012
On any given day, Jeff Hancock can be seen feeding cattle on Lorry Tognoli’s ranch, but this unassuming rancher has a much bigger story.
Hancock is a world class water skier—a feat he has accomplished on one leg. He lost most of one leg in a work-related accident in 1993, and 19 years later, he has accomplished what many would consider to be impossible.
“I got picked for the USA Disabled Waterski Team to go to Italy next July,” said Hancock.
When Hancock first started skiing in 2005, he started by entering some regular competitions. Shortly thereafter, he went to a disabled competition in Minnesota and broke his arm. Later in 2005, he went to Mint Lake in Washington and set a national record. This year, he went to nationals at Sacramento, Calif. and broke his old record.
The property Hancock works on is unique in that it harbors a private water ski lake. This is where the story began, with a man who has chosen to turn his disability into a world record on the water.
Hancock began working for Tognoli 11 years ago. His good friend Terry Winters, who is also a pro skier, came out to Tognoli’s property for a visit.
“He said, wow, this would be a great place for a lake.’ That always stuck in the back of my head,’” remarked Hancock.
In 2005, the idea became a reality, and Tognoli contracted out with Bartlett Excavating for the excavating of the lake, removing the gravel from an old rock pit. The old Boston (or Hudspeth) Feedlot on Tognoli’s property was also removed.
“We built a berm around the outside and made a ski lake,” said Bartlett. “We spent four or five months building the lake.”
He emphasized that the work began in October, and they were often working with frozen ground. The lake is just wide enough to water ski, and is eight feet at the deepest part with buoys and an island on each end. The wake off the boat dissipates off of the island.
The lake is 2,090 feet by 250 feet, and according to Tognoli, it is almost one mile around the perimeter.
“It’s sloped so gently coming out of there that the wave will dissipate instead of hitting the bank. It’s like skiing on glass all of the time,” commented Bartlett.
Tognoli is the owner of the lake, and leases it to the River Run Water Ski Club. She said this is the third year for their adventure.
Shortly after he learned how to ski, Hancock became affiliated with USA Waterski, a non-profit organization that promotes water skiing.
“The club pays so much per year, and they insure us,” said Hancock of the River Run Water Ski Club. “Everybody that skis on this lake has to be a USA Waterski member for insurance purposes.”
Hancock had never skied before 2005, and the entire history of his sport began when he met a man at Eastside Prosthetics and Orthotics who wanted to learn how to be a cowboy.
“He said, ‘I will teach you how to waterski if you let me hang out with you and teach me how to ride and rope.’ I keep skiing and I don’t think he is cowboying anymore,” Hancock laughed.
He said that it took an entire year before he could get up on the ski.
“But I didn’t quit,” Hancock added.
He pointed at the lake, and noted that the course wasn’t as easy as it looks. Hancock added that at the disabled competition, they must ski at 36 miles per hour. Within each event (slalom, tricks, and jumping) at the Disabled Worlds, athletes are grouped into the three categories; seated paraplegics and quadriplegics, standing –including arm and/or leg disabilities with or without prosthesis, and vision impaired, which includes the partially or totally blind.
At the 2011 Disabled Water Ski World Championships, the U.S. Disabled Water Ski Team won the gold medal for the second consecutive time and the sixth time overall, while U.S. team members earned a total of 12 individual medals, including four gold medals, five silver medals and three bronze medals.
Hancock relayed how incredible and admirable he thinks it is to have blind ski athletes competing in the world event.
“Talk about total trust of your driver,” he exclaimed.
Bartlett is equally impressed with Hancock and his athletic prowess.
“It’s cool to me to see Jeff, who had never water skied before the lake was filled, to become a national champion,” remarked Bartlett.
Hancock goes to the USA Disabled Waterski Team World Championships in Milan, Italy July 2013 with his family cheering him on.