Of Water Skis and Mangroves

You know how when you take on a task the more you practice the better you get? And as you gain proficiency you tend to push the envelope to keep it from getting boring? This is how babies become figure skaters and so on.

Sometime after graduating from college I took up water skiing for a brief time. A friend of mine, Bill, had a boat and we both had an embarrassing amount of free time to spend while we awaited for our ship to arrive.

I had tried water skiing in Minnesota, land of 10,000 choppy lakes with little success. But in Florida, a calm and lazy river flowed through Tampa making a perfect environment for skiing. Of course, the enhancement of never knowing if an alligator was going to bite off your leg whilst awaiting the boat made it all the more exciting. This was long before wearing a helmet was standard practice.

As I gained proficiency, merely skiing behind the boat in a safe, predictable wake became a little tedious. Night time skiing on the river was tried. Night time skiing outside the wake was attempted with mixed results. Nothing like getting knocked into the water by a branch or a log and then waiting for the boat to find you while checking to see if you have all your body parts intact. Ahh, the echoing sound of a bull alligator grunting from an indeterminate location!

No one I knew ever got attacked by an alligator but everyone knew the potential. Generally, the speed one traveled on skis kept that worry at bay. But treading water in the dark for several minutes made for some tense moments. Who would find me first, the boat or the gator?

I moved from two skis to one fairly quickly. The final hurdle was to complete a 180 degree turn on one ski. That would have been a major accomplishment. Getting past the apex of the turn was beyond me.

I can only attribute it to pilot error that Bill made his U-turn in a narrow part of the river. All I could do was hang on and complete the turn. When I wiped out that should have been it. But I was traveling so fast I couldn’t get into the water to save my life. I skipped across the surface doing what probably looked to be a Wiley Coyote impression as I hurtled toward the bank and the stand of mangrove trees growing there.

I’m told a team of alligators lunged toward me like defenders of a penalty kick in a soccer match but I was too preoccupied to see it. Unfortunately the trees were my only net.

I stopped abruptly and hung in the branches of a tree for several seconds while I became aware of my surroundings. I still had my eyesight and my manhood. I wasn’t in severe pain. I was alive. All my limbs seemed intact.

I extricated myself from the tree branches, lowered myself gingerly to the ground and picked my way carefully back to the water. While swimming back to the boat I heard a round of applause rise from some nearby houses.

I was done for that day.

However few days later I made a fateful decision. I think I was still shaken by my close encounter with the mangrove. I wasn’t feeling well but I let myself be cajoled into going skiing again. You know, get back on the horse after it throws you and all that.

This time, the strain of the rope, the angle of the fall…  Apparently, what was a hairline crack became a full blown fracture. My elbow separated from the rest of my arm and came to rest elsewhere. This time, swimming back to the boat drew no applause. I had to be lifted into the boat as my left arm was useless.

The doctor in the ER informed me he needed to operate. Following the advice I had always heard I told him I wanted a second opinion. I thought it was merely dislocated and I wasn’t going to be taken advantage of. His honest attempt at containing a smile convinced me that he probably knew what he was talking about. He said he would find another doctor to weigh in but I told him it wouldn’t be necessary after all. He did a good job reconstructing my elbow.

I recovered fully but somehow have never again had occasion, or desire to put on skis of any kind. Oh well.

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