Tricks Are Not Just for Kids

After winning gold at the World Over 35 Waterski Championships—and more than four decades on his skis, waterski coach Marc Bedsole is showing no signs of slowing down.

Marc Bedsole first got on the water when he was four years old. His family had a lake house, and their next-door neighbor wanted to teach him how to ski. “I didn’t have much trouble learning how to ski,” Bedsole says.

That’s something of an understatement. He took to it like, well, a fish to water; there’s no denying that he had a natural affinity for the sport, but “to get to the point I’m at now, I think I just work[ed] harder than other people.”

Last October, Bedsole, who has coached water skiing at Rollins College for more than two decades, won the gold medal in the Over-45 Men’s Tricks category at the World Over 35 Waterski Championships in Chapala, Mexico. Two years before that, in the same event in Italy, he placed a close second.

“That was the coolest thing that ever happened in my whole life,” he says of his victory. As proud as he is of that gold medal, he’s equally proud that, during that event, while “you never ski perfect, I skied as close to right on the money as I could. Second place [in Italy] is great, but to go over [to Mexico] and see all your hard work pay off, it was awesome.”

He is, by all accounts, the only collegiate coach competing at that level. But beyond his personal achievements, Bedsole, now entering his 21st season as Rollins’ head coach, has also racked up significant accomplishments as a coach. He came here after graduating from rival Florida Southern, which is now but was not then a water skiing powerhouse, where Bedsole was an All-American despite his team never making it to nationals (and not even having a coach one year). In his senior year, he interned at Rollins, helping with the ski team during the day and intercollegiate sports at night. When the skiing coach left after that year, he applied, and in the fall of 1992 became Rollins’ coach.

He had big shoes to fill. In the years before, Rollins had one of the strongest teams in the nation, but its prowess had started to wane. “I had the remaining portion of someone else’s team,” he says. “It took me awhile to build the team back up.”

But he did. From 1994 to 1998, Rollins had five consecutive top-five finishes in the Division I collegiate championships. Then in 2002 and 2003, the team won consecutive Division II national championships, something no Rollins squad had ever before done.

(A quick word about how collegiate water skiing championships work: It’s not like other major college sports, where divisions are assigned based on school size. Rather, Division I teams are the best of the best in any given year, whereas the next stratum of teams is assigned to Division II. So in some respects, Bedsole is happier placing in the top five in Division I than winning Division II.)

He’s done this, in part, by attracting some of the best skiers in the country to Rollins: Dana Preble ’95; Benny Lohr ’99, a four-time All-American at Rollins; and Rhoni Barton Bischoff ’98, who by 1997 was ranked the world’s best female skier and finished her career at Rollins as the winningest collegiate water skier of all time, among others.

“I got lucky,” Bedsole says. “I got kids that were wanting to ski, but they’re also interested in the education side of it too.”

Looking back, Bedsole says he appreciates the relationships he’s built over the last 20 years at Rollins; in fact, he still trains with some of the athletes who were on the Rollins team two decades ago. He also says that being around collegiate skiers, with their youth and vigor, helps keep him young.

“I know that I’m 22 years older than when I started,” he says, “but being surrounded by that certain age demographic, I almost lose sight of the fact that I’m almost 50 years old. It’s been vital and important to my own skiing.”