Grace Petzold’s passion for water skiing started when her parents took her to a ski show in northern Wisconsin when she was 12 years old. “I told my parents: ‘I want to do that,’” she says.
Seven years later, she’s an award-winning member and the youngest female on the U.S. Water Ski Team and competes globally at world championships.
While for others, this might be the highlight of their life, it wasn’t for Grace. For her, it was water skiing with her mom who is paralyzed from the waist down.
“I had never water skied before I was injured,” Wendy Petzold, Grace’s mom says, referring to a decades-past injury when a car accident injured her spinal cord resulting in her paralysis. But in 2015, thanks to a program offered by Grace’s water ski team in Florida, Wendy water skied for the first time in her life.
“To be out of your wheelchair, gliding across the water… it was just an amazing feeling,” she says. Grace looks back at that moment and recalls it unlocked a lot of feelings for her as well.
“I realized I wanted to provide that same opportunity to other individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities,” says Grace. Four years ago with the help of her parents, she founded Graceful Wakes, a non-profit organization seeking to increase accessibility to the sport of water skiing.
Graceful Wakes offers free annual clinics in northern Wisconsin, where participants can water ski using adaptive equipment. The adaptive water ski is multi-functional and, therefore, usable by many different people. “We can find an adaptation for anyone, no matter their ability,” says Grace.
Wendy attributes Grace’s “giving back” mentality to her upbringing. “I think that having a mother with a disability helped make her in tune to the needs of other people, and to look beyond herself; that the world doesn’t revolve around her and that there are others that need help,” says Wendy.
Grace reflects, “The biggest thing I notice when an adaptive water skier tries water skiing for the first time, is just the joy and the smiles that come across their face. It melts my heart and makes all the hard work worth it.”