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Friendships, thrills help keep generations of Ski Nuts going

January 6, 2019
Pat Coomes, member of The Kentucky Lake Ski Nuts, looks to land a jump on Twin Oaks Lakes in Paducah, Ky., Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. The Kentucky Lake Ski Nuts have maintained their long-standing tradition of skiing in the new year for 40 years, as this will be the 41st consecutive New Year's Day of water skiing for the local group. The Ski Nuts are one of the top competition ski teams in the United States, however, locally the Ski Nuts seem to be best known for this New Year's Day tradition. (Ellen O'Nan/The Paducah Sun via AP)

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) — At first glance, the New Year’s Day tradition a group of regional water-skiers has adopted may seem a bit, well, nuts.

But the Kentucky Lake Ski Nuts have proven their annual ritual has staying power: Members have braved occasional below-freezing temperatures and lakes encrusted with ice every Jan. 1 for 41 consecutive years.

“It’s just a novelty, something to break up the winter,” Pat Coomes said before he took off for a few laps around Twin Oaks Lakes last Tuesday. The sky was gray, but an air temperature in the mid-40s made it “not so awful cold,” Coomes insisted.

Other members of the group say there’s more to the tradition -- and the Kentucky Lake Ski Nuts -- than the novelty. After all, three generations of water-skiers participate in the group’s tournaments, and members like Coomes have found ways to keep the New Year’s Day ritual going even when their usual venue is too frozen to use.

Coomes recalled one year when he decided to ski the Ohio River near his home in Bowling Green, just to make sure one member of the group kept the custom alive.

A group of Ski Nuts gathered inside the home of Cathy and Joe Burkhead on Tuesday said the warmth of friendship, as much as the thrill of cold-weather water-skiing, has kept them on the water for decades.

″(We) develop long, close relationships with the rest of the group,” said Joy Coomes, who joined the group more than 20 years ago with Pat, her husband.

Like any good tradition, the skiers’ New Year’s Day event offers plenty of food: The Ski Nuts warm up by feasting on a potluck that includes turkey and ribs, black-eyed peas and collard greens.

Joy Coomes, Cathy Burkhead and fellow Ski Nut Tina Hill weren’t among the four Ski Nuts who took laps around the lake on Tuesday. Instead, they gathered in the Burkheads’ kitchen, one eye on the University of Kentucky football game, to talk about the thrill of competition, the frustration and exhilaration of first learning to ski and highlights of the group’s history.

The women -- whose husbands and even, in some cases, grandchildren are also water-skiers -- agreed the rewards of Ski Nut membership lie in the connections members are able to make with fellow skiers, both in western Kentucky and across the nation. They cited the opportunity to travel, and to host both prestigious and “moving” events like the 2018 Disabled Nationals, as other perks.

“I think of us as a family group because we are very, very close,” Burkhead said. For her, being part of the Kentucky Lake Ski Nuts is all about “the sport, the excitement and supporting each other.”

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Information from: The Paducah Sun, http://www.paducahsun.com

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