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TWIN LAKES, Wisc. — About 70-miles northwest of Chicago is the home of the National Show Ski Team of the Year.  It’s a title the Aqua-Nuts finally grabbed last year for the first time in more than 30 years.

It’s a major accomplishment for everyone on the team, but not necessarily its proudest.

In between all the tricks and shows in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, the focus shifts to those who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to get out on water skis.

Susan Richey is a longtime Aqua-Nut and occupational therapist heading up the teams adaptive water ski program. Each summer she leads a series of clinics to get those of varying physical and mental abilities onto the lake and into the sunshine.

“We have a variety of adaptive equipment from skis with seats on them, to outriggers that keep them safe and stable, to different harnesses if they have only one arm,” she says. “We have all kinds of adaptive equipment so they can get out there and be safe and be free and enjoy the water.”

Stash Nowicki was 8-year-old when he started the program. Diagnosed with autism, this north suburban Chicago teen has found a sense of freedom over the six years he’s taken part.

Just last week was his first time on two skis.

“The water skiing is amazing,” he says.  “I made it up.. I feel amazing!”

This is Milwaukee native Caleb Henrich’s first time and he took off with no fear.

“I think the word victorious really applies,” Calen’d mother Rachel says.  “There’s so many challenges when you have special needs.  To have just a few hours when they can do something really fun and semi normal, it’s a victorious moment for them.”

Happy parents watch on and see the look of confidence spread across kids’ faces as they took on the ski’s.

Kids are assisted by members of the Aqua-Nuts team on boats and nearby on jet skis to monitor their progress.

The adaptive skiing program caters to a wide range of abilities; those with autism, head injuries, amputees, para and quadriplegics, wounded veterans, anyone with the desire to try.

A former Chicago physician Fai Codina never water skied before her stroke.  Now it’s helping her regain her freedom.

“Even when you ski, they make you try to do core work.  You’re holding yourself forward therefore working your abs,” she says.

She says she is working muscles and forgetting the injury she fights to overcome everyday.

“It’s that feeling that they can do this.  That they’re out there by themselves.  They’re free, they’re independent and they get to call all the shots.  They all come out with big smiles and say, ‘That was awesome. The best day of my life.’”

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