It takes a certain amount of courage to strap on a pair of water skis and be pulled by a motorboat. But how about doing it without being able to see where you’re going?
That’s the reality and passion of Ryan Riehl, a blind Saskatoon man.
Riehl, 31, began losing his sight at the age of nine as the result of a tumour growing on his optical nerve. Despite many surgeries, his has permanently lost his vision.
Although many would see this as a limitation, Riehl refused to let a disability keep him from living life to its fullest.
When he was 22, a friend of Riehl’s met one of his current coaches, LeRoss Calnek, who was looking to get more visually impaired people on water skis.
Riehl was invited out to try the sport and has been shredding wakes ever since.
“I tried it out and I didn’t want to stop, so they said ‘OK we’ll coach you,’” he said.
“I loved it … I wasn’t afraid of hitting anything. I was just like anybody else when I’m on the water.”
Along with the support of his family and a background in downhill skiing, Riehl quickly adapted and continues to impress on the national stage by coming up big in competitions.
Global News caught up with Riehl at the Western Canadian Water Ski Championships in Saskatoon. He was holding a pair of skis that were emblazoned with the words “I am Blind & Now I Ski.”
But how does Riehl water ski in both slalom and jump events when he can’t see what he’s speeding towards?
“For jumps, the same sort of deal. I’m going off the same five-foot jump as everybody else. The only thing is, I go by countdown and my guide who skis beside me and they do a countdown.”
He added that there’s nothing in the world quite like landing a jump for him.
“It feels like I’m flying,” Riehl said with a smile.
“It’s an amazing feeling, I love it, I love the sport, I love competing and then to be able to land the jump.”
Riehl has competed in the World Disabled Water Ski Championships before and he’ll be doing so again next April in Australia.
“It’s pretty neat to go out there and try and do your best for Canada and hopefully stand on the podium and bring back a medal,” he said.
Reihl said there are only a handful of blind water skiers that compete on the planet.
“Some people think I’m crazy, some are happy for me, some say they’re scared for me. They can’t believe I’m doing it. I’m happy that I’m doing it, I’m living life to the fullest.”
Ryan Flaherty contributed to this story