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Below-freezing temperatures didn't stop water skiing for charity on the Mississippi

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - 1/2/2018

Jan. 02--ST. LOUIS -- The temperature was barely above zero, and two ski ropes broke before the brave souls holding the handles could stand up. Ice floating idly by on the Mississippi River on Monday seemed to say, "Come on, I dare you."

Conditions weren't at all ideal for the 43rd annual New Year's Day Polar Bear Ski Event in front of the Gateway Arch. But, as in years past, that didn't stop Chesterfield resident Kevin Day and a team of skiers from the Missouri Disabled Waterski Association from accepting the dare and skimming the Mississippi.

The event benefits the association, an organization dedicated to improving the physical condition and quality of life for people with disabilities through sports.

Day had skied on the Mississippi on Saturday. The water was "brutal" then, he said, but there wasn't ice on the river. By Monday, the frigid water was laden with ice chunks, making water skiing dangerous.

Still, Day was ready to ski -- until he realized that he had forgotten his dry suit; a vital component of water skiing in near-freezing water. So another association member, Anthony Fussner, volunteered to put on the Santa suit over his dry suit, along with a smile.

"I was going to do it anyway," Fussner said of water skiing in the event. "It's fun, and it's for a good cause."

Day drove Fussner's jet ski, pulling his friend across the river.

Jim Mills also tried to ski Monday but didn't quite make it, through no fault of his own. As the jet ski ahead of him hit the gas pedal, the rope that would have pulled him up snapped in the chill. It happened to the next skier, Dave Diederich, as well.

"I've never seen a rope break, and most certainly I've never seen two break in a row," Mills said. The water was cold enough to turn the normally hardy ropes into brittle breakables.

Most spectators watched the action from their cars, though a group of roughly a dozen people braved the cold for a few minutes to watch from the banks of the Mississippi. A few of the spectators were former participants in the New Year's Day tradition.

Andy Cole, a St. Louis native, was in town for the holidays to visit family and has skied in the event in the past. He now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Evident by the socks and sandals on his feet, he refused to succumb to the cold temperatures of his homeland.

Besides, sandals were the only appropriate footwear for standing on the riverbank, according to Cole.

"Hey, I'm on a beach!" he said.


(c)2018 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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