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Grace McGuire moves through the slalom water ski course on the Upper Whitefish Chain. McGuire, who will be a freshman at Pequot Lakes High School this fall, skied to a third-place finish at the state last year. Photo by Pete Mohs

Pete's Point: Grace on water

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Most athletes compete in front of fans at a crowded gymnasium or a stadium.

But Grace McGuire usually performs her athletic craft in the solitude of a small lake with only a couple deer watching from the shoreline or a loon floating nearby.

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McGuire, a 14-year-old incoming freshman at Pequot Lakes High School, who has excelled at track and field and alpine skiing at a young age, is also an accomplished slalom water skier. And she practices early in the morning on small area lakes, sometimes with just a boat driver and spotter.

"A lot of people don't know that I water ski," McGuire said last week while preparing for a practice run on a small lake off the Upper Whitefish Chain. "I really enjoy it. I have been (water) skiing since I was five years old."

Although she practices with little fanfare, she will be skiing in front of large crowds at the Minnesota State Water Ski championships set for Saturday and Sunday, July 26-27, in Center City (eastern Minnesota).

"I like competing, but I mostly ski for fun," said McGuire, who has twice placed third in her age category the past couple years in state competition. "I'm not sure how I will do this year since I'm moving up (to the 14-16 age category)."

Besides competing, McGuire gets up early to practice skiing most mornings between May and September because of her love for the sport. She started skiing through the slalom courses at age 10.

"I like skiing because it gets you in the water, and helps me build body strength, which helps with running in track and alpine skiing," said McGuire, who was a member of the Pequot Lakes Patriots' 4x400-meter relay that finished fifth at last month's Class A state track meet. "Skiing compares a lot to Alpine (downhill snow) skiing. It takes a lot of coordination and body positioning. Edging on the skis is also critical."

Much of McGuire's water skiing knowledge came from her dad, John. He has water skied most of his life, including also competing at a young age.

"I'm 55 and I still ski," he said. "I like skiing because it's a great workout. For me, there's no better workout than 20 minutes of skiing. I tease my friends that my gym is a lot nicer than their gym because I'm on water."

Grace and John both enjoy the family emphasis of the sport. Grace often skis with her older sister, Addison, her mom, Elise, her uncle and cousin.

"Water skiing and alpine skiing are two of the best family sports," said John, who added that he also likes the individual challenge of skiing through a sequence of buoys that are lined up on a slalom course. Besides the floating course on Upper Whitefish, the McGuires also have a submersible course on Eagle Lake near Fifty Lakes.

"It's a quest to get around the buoys," John said. "It's a tug-of-war between the skier and the boat. The skier always wants to be in a good leverage position."

John adds that the popularity of slalom skiing is making a comeback.

"Slalom skiing was big years ago, but the numbers dropped (in the mid-1990s) with the popularity of wakeboards," he said, "but there's been a huge resurgence in slalom skiing in the past couple years."

Slalom skiing has technically evolved over the years. The equipment is more advanced and the boats are customized to handle the sway of the skiers. The boats have cruise control to manage the speed, and large fins underneath with the tow rope and engine positioned in the center of the boat to keep it on a straight course.

"Grace usually competes at speeds of 28, 30, 32 and 34 mph," said John, who added that rope lengths are also reduced to increase the challenge. "The biggest thing is skiing on calm water. That's why we practice early in the morning."

The location of the state competition has also changed over the decades.

"When I was young we competed on public waters where you had other boat traffic," John said. "Now they're on narrow man-made lakes where you don't have boat traffic and the water is more calm. Center City actually has two man-made lakes and the judges watch from towers."

The sport, which is sanctioned by the United States Water Ski Association, includes state, the Midwest Regional and national competitions.

"I hope to advance to the regional in Illinois," Grace said, "but I wouldn't be able to compete at nationals if I would advance since I'm having surgery on both feet to remove bone spurs."

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