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Profile of Ryan Riehl
by Sara Dorken for WakeSports Canada (July 2008)

photo of Ryan RiehlRyan Riehl is Canada's first visually impaired member of the adaptive development team. Water skiing became his passion after much dedication and a life full of experiences that prepared him both physically and mentally for his time as a national level athlete.

Since the age of 7, Ryan has had his feet in a pair of skis. The first were snow skis, where he learned basic skills like balance and agility that he now applies to his water skiing technique. When Ryan was 9 he began to lose his vision as a result of a tumour growing on his optic nerves. Despite many surgeries his vision is permanently gone. Although many would see this in a negative light, Ryan sees this as an advantage as he now remembers what things looked like and he is able to visualize what is described to him.

At 22 years old, Ryan began adaptive water skiing with the Saskatoon Water Ski Club where he continues to train today. His background as a visually impaired downhill skier has made him comfortable with the fact that he can't see what he is skiing towards and therefore has to use his other senses to guide him. This has helped him adapt quickly to and succeed in water skiing.

Ryan got into adaptive water skiing when a friend of his met one of his current coaches, LeRoss Calnek, who was looking to get more visually impaired people on water skis. His friend was asked if he knew of anyone interested in trying adaptive water skiing. Ryan was invited to participate and has been involved ever since.

To stay in shape for the water ski season Ryan meets with his coaches close to once per week to work on his body positioning techniques. Between meetings with his coaches he does a daily workout on equipment he has in the home he shares with his guide dog Eddie. During the ski season Ryan manages to get on the water on a regular basis with his coaches to work on his performance.

Last season saw Ryan winning gold medals in both tricks and slalom at the adaptive nationals in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As Canada's first visually impaired member of the national adaptive team, he hopes to take the successes of last season and turn that into other podium performances at the adaptive nationals again this season. He is also looking forward to adding jumps to his performance this year.

When he's not water skiing, Ryan spends his time working at a local restaurant. He is grateful for their support and non-discriminatory practices and hopes to continue working there into the future.

Ryan credits his parents with encouraging him to try new things, and pushing him to succeed in all that he does. His supportive family, his drive to succeed and his independence all come into play in explaining Ryan's past accomplishments in adaptive waterskiing. With a stretch and a prayer as pre-competition staples, Ryan continues to impress on the national stage by coming up big in big competitions. Hoping to increase his on-water practice time this season, we should be seeing great passes and even better results from this motivated, hard-working competitor.

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