The Joy of Water Skiing with Kate McGormley

Kate McGormley

Kate McGormley is a higher education professional living in Indianapolis with her husband and two sons.  Kate is a champion for mental health advocacy and kindness. She spent 2013 doing a kindness act each day with her young sons and blogging about it at KindnessMatters365. She spends most of her time with family and friends, but also loves serving on the board of her local Habitat for Humanity and occasionally pounding some nails.  Her greatest obsession in life is her English Bulldog, Mack!


The Joy of Water Skiing with Kate McGormley

Let Kate McGormley describe the rush and unbridled joy she experiences every time she goes water skiing, a sport she’s done every year since she was 6 years old. An advocate for mental health and the power of kindness, she takes us through how she got into the sport, the mechanics of getting up on skis, and how being outside on the water helps her appreciate her body, her health, and the goodness that always exists in the world. Her infectious laugh is something that will brighten your day and may just convince you to give water skiing a try!

At the end of the podcast, I share something that brought me joy this week related to the episode. Given Kate’s focus on the joy of the outdoors, please check out the latest Fix Solutions Lab publication—The Joy Issue. Fix is a storytelling team at Grist, a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future. Fix was founded on a simple premise: promising solutions to the climate crisis exist — they just haven’t yet gained sufficient momentum to tip the scales.

The Joy Issue has stories about using joy as a tool for climate change activism. It’s the perfect blend of so many things I love that create the foundation for my life and career—top-notching writing and storytelling, joy, curiosity, and protecting our beautiful planet.

Topics discussed in this episode:
– When Kate started water skiing
– How she got started water skiing
– The mechanics of water skiing
– How water skiing make her grateful for so many things

Links to resources:
– Kate on Instagram – @kathryn.mcgormley
– Kate on Facebook – @Kate McGormley
– Kate’s blog – KindnessMatters365
– The Joy Issue by Fix at Grist – The Joy Issue
– Christa on Twitter – @christanyc
– Christa on Instagram – @christarosenyc
– Christa on Facebook – @AuthorChrista 
– Christa on Medium – @christaavampato
– Christa on TikTok – @christanyc
– Christa’s website –

The Joy of Water Skiing with Kate – 16:43

ski, joy, waterskiing, water, kate, lake erie, feeling, boat, pull, people, lake, indiana, feel, rope, place, accomplishment, calms, foot, swim, christa

Christa Avampato  00:00

Hi everyone! Welcome back to the JoyProject. I’m Christa Avampato, your host. Do you need some more joy? I certainly do. We could all use some more of it. And I can’t stress this enough—even though the world’s in a tough place right now, we’ve got to take breaks. We’ve got to keep finding, making, and sharing joy so we can keep going.

So a little story—I didn’t learn to swim until I was 30. I was in graduate school and I signed up for adult swim classes on campus. Our instructor left a note taped to the locker room door that began “Dear Terrified Adults”. And I she was right.  I was indeed terrified. I didn’t really have much exposer to water as a kid. My parents didn’t swim so they never taught us to swim. I took some swimming lessons as our local reservoir but I never really took to it. At 30, I was embarrassed about not being able to swim and decided I had to conquer this fear. To be honest, I’m still not that comfortable in the water, and definitely not in open water, so I’m always amazed by people who take to the water so easily.

Our guest today is one of those people. Kate McGormley is a higher education professional living in Indiana with her husband and two sons.  Kate is a champion for mental health advocacy and kindness. And though her list of things that bring her joy is long, one of her greatest joys in water skiing and she’s going to chat about that sport with us today.

Kate, hello and welcome to JoyProject!

Kate McGormley  01:20
Hi, thanks so much. It’s good to be here.

Christa Avampato  01:22

Where are you calling us from today?

Kate McGormley  01:24

I am calling from Zionsville, Indiana. 20 miles northwest of Indianapolis.

Christa Avampato  01:31

Are you from that area?

Kate McGormley  01:32

No, I’m actually from Michigan but moved here about 10 years ago.

Christa Avampato  01:37

I’m going to start this conversation the way I start with all of our guests and I’m going to ask you what brings you joy.

Kate McGormley  01:43

I feel lucky that there’s quite a list. The first thing that really does come to mind for me is waterskiing. There is something about the feeling of coming up out of the water and cutting back and forth through the water and just the feeling of being part of water in a very different and unique way. The feeling of the air when it’s a hot summer day and you get up out of the water. There’s an accomplishment with that, especially as the years have gone on, it becomes more and more of an accomplishment. I’ve been skiing since I was little so there’s something very routine also if I try to ski more than once a year, but just it happening every year and everything that’s changed and everything that’s different, but like there’s that consistency getting up and still having those same feelings about skiing.

Christa Avampato  02:32

Have you always loved the water?

Kate McGormley  02:35

Yes, I’ve always loved the water. So I was born in Port Huron, Michigan, right on the water and I don’t know if that had something to do with it. There are pictures of my brother and my sister and me when we were little. We’re in our diapers, right by our parents just running around right by Lake Huron and we had a boat and then we moved to Southern Michigan where we were close to Lake Erie. And then my in-law’s have a lake house and my aunt has a beautiful place up on Lake Michigan. So yes, water has always been a big part of my life. It’s the thing that brings it all back and kind of calms me. Waterskiing itself, I wouldn’t say calms me. But there’s definitely the joy there for sure.

Christa Avampato  03:19

How did you get into waterskiing?

Kate McGormley  03:22

We used to come to this place down in Indiana that my extended family owned and they were always trying to get us up on skis. From the time we were really little. I just kept trying and I eventually got up and I loved it. And then I was just kind of kept doing it from there.

Christa Avampato  03:37

Do you remember how old you were when the first time that you actually got up on skis and were able to stay up?

Kate McGormley  03:42

Yes, I was six.

Christa Avampato  03:45

I think of it taking a tremendous amount of upper body strength and core strength. Is that right?

Kate McGormley  03:52

Well, let me put it this way. I don’t feel that I have very much poor strength or upper body strength. So I don’t know for sure.

I think it’s a little bit more the feeling like I think I have an advantage to be honest, because I started when I was so young. So I think it’s a little bit like snow skiing where your body it’s like riding a bike, you know, your body gets kind of used to it.

And I think the older you get, and the later you try to do both waterskiing and snow skiing, the harder it is because your body doesn’t know it. Getting up on one ski is a very weird feeling. It’s an awkward feeling. Even for me. I think my lower lower half is stronger. So I don’t know if that makes a difference but I think it’s a little bit mental.

You’re holding on and you get up and there’s a certain sense of loss of control. You’re willing to kind of go far enough with the angle of the ski that you’re putting yourself out there as far as willing to fall. And so I think that’s a piece of it too. I think it is a little bit of a risk piece, too.

Christa Avampato  05:27

And I like what you said about it’s really a muscle memory. My friends who are dancers feel that way about dancing. It gets in their muscles so they actually don’t have to logically think through the dance because their muscles know what to do.

Are you out on the ocean most of the time? Are you out on the Great Lakes? Where do you do your most your waterskiing?

Kate McGormley  05:47

So I have skied on Lake Erie, which there’s actually a funny story there. So my college girlfriends, we always get together every summer on Lake Erie at one of the parents houses and one summer we got together and they knew I loved waterskiing. And it was hilarious, because it doesn’t feel like a big deal to me. But when they I got up on my skiis, they were so amazed, screaming, “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, that’s amazing!” It was hilarious. I’m just like, wow, I’m a celebrity! I’m not that great of a skier. I just happen to be someone who has skied for a long time.

So typically, I’m on an inland lake. There’s one up in northern Michigan that I go on where my brother has a place. And then there’s one in more of the Irish Hills area of Michigan, where my in-laws have a place that I ski on a lot.

I have two boys. And I don’t push them in a lot of directions. But waterskiing has been one thing I have pushed them on. I think probably because of the joy piece. If it brings me joy, it’s like I want to share that with them. And I want them to have something that brings them joy, even though I recognize it might not be the same thing.

Very interesting to see the two of them go at it very differently. My older son is a perfectionist and has to kind of figure things out before he does them. And so he has struggled, because he doesn’t like the feeling. Whereas my younger son got up faster and at a younger age than my older son because he’s a little more like, “I don’t have to have it figured out. I’ll just try it.” And my husband is also a water skier but hasn’t been able to ski as much, because he’s got some arthritis issues.

Christa Avampato  07:37

You were saying that you got up on one ski. Is that two feet in one ski or you’re skiing one legged? Because I was imagining what that would look like and though, “What does she mean she’s not a celebrity superstar?! She’s skiing on one leg!”

Kate McGormley  07:53

Skiing on one leg would be amazing, although I have not been able to do that yet. So yes, this is what they call a slalom ski. And what it is—the ski that has the boots that you would put your front foot in, and then it has the little open flap, basically that you stick your back foot in.

I’ve got my front foot in the boot and then I’ve got my back foot behind that in a little thing where I can pull it in and out. Whereas the front foot that’s in the boot is in there. It’s not coming out. Unless obviously if you fall, it typically does come out.

There’s a little bit of difference for people in terms of how they get up. When they’re only skiing on one ski, some people put their foot into what’s called a binder. They put it in the back binder, other people get up with their foot out and that’s what I do because I like the feeling of the kind of equilibrium between my two feet being next to each other. Once I get up, I slide that foot in the binder and then there then I’m just on one ski. It’s actually easier to ski on one ski I think than on two.

Christa Avampato  09:02

How would somebody get started waterskiing if they wanted to give it a try? What would you recommend?

Kate McGormley  09:06

I know for sure there are college waterskiing teams, not at the level of NCAA basketball but they definitely exist. I know Michigan State University where I work, they have a waterskiing team. I think it’s a sport that is passed down, You end up doing it if your family has a lake house, or you are friends with someone who has a lake house and then you go there and you learn how to ski. I don’t think there are a lot of opportunities like sailing or things like that where there are classes. There may be some summer camps where you could do it. But I would say on the whole you’re doing it if you are going to someone’s house and visiting or someone’s cottage or it’s in your family. I think that’s kind of how it ends up happening.

Christa Avampato  09:48

I get this runner’s high after a really long run. Is that the same thing with waterskiing when you do get up on that ski or you go for a certain distance or certain time? Is there like this rush that you feel is that where the joy comes from?

Kate McGormley  10:00

Yes, I think that’s exactly what it is. In this case, I probably am equating joy with like that endorphin rush. All the elements kind of coming together for me. You’ve got the water, the boat, the weather, usually the sun is out and all the conditions are right. And you’re by yourself. I mean, I am an extrovert. But that’s a place where it’s kind of, I don’t want to say Zen because I’m not. I don’t think it’s a calm feeling. But it is a place of, I would say pretty pure joy.

Christa Avampato  10:29

Do you have a really vivid waterskiing memory that you could share?

Kate McGormley  10:32

For me, the first ski of the season. With everything that’s happened in the past year, the things that have changed, the things that are the same things, great things and not so great things. You know, there’s this consistency of, “Now I’m doing this again, and I’m back.” And for 5 or 10 minutes, when I ski around this lake, I’m actually not going to think about any of those things. And it’s just going to be the water. There’s lots of green—tons of trees. And it’s just a very grounding experience.

Christa Avampato  11:14

I love that idea of something that comes around every year. How we look forward to spring or certain holidays. Has waterskiing changed at all for you as you get older, whether the amount of joy you get from it or the work it takes like as you get a little bit older. Or does it sort of take you back to earlier years and memories?

Kate McGormley  11:34

I think that’s a great question. I’m 42. And I feel like it actually does matter more to me every year because I know being 40 is not like some ancient age, but I definitely feel my body more than I did when I was in my 30s or in my 20s. Whether that’s my knee or my back or you know, whatever it is.

It’s not a sport that’s just for young people or whatever. But it’s also not easy. And something that feels kind of like an accomplishment now more than it did when I was 22, let’s say or 18. Yep, I did it again. I got up, I’m still alive.

They gotta throw you the rope, you get the rope, you got your ski. It’s this kind of finely oiled machine. And also, by the way, I usually have a couple of times when I don’t get up right away. And so it’s like that kind of pushing yourself like, “Alright, get that booty out of the water!” And yeah, I mean, there have been years when I felt like oh yeah, I gained 10 pounds and it sure feels like it. And there are other years where I’m like, “Oh, I’m a little lighter. I like this, this is easier.” So it is this very kind of nice barometer.

Christa Avampato  12:51

How do you start? Can you walk us through the process?

Kate McGormley  12:55

The boat will be pulled up at the dock. And so I’ll get in and I’ll put my life jacket on, we’ll go out and there’s usually spots that are better than others. So we’ll find the good spot for starting and then I will usually jump in the water and put my ski on in the water. Sometimes I put my ski on before I get in, it just depends and then as soon as I have that done, make sure my life jackets on and then they will throw me the rope and usually kind of let that go through your hands on the boat kind of vitals and pulls up and then you get the handle part of the rope. And then as soon as I have that I let the boat straighten out and the rope gets really taut and then I usually yell hit it and then they take off and hopefully I pop up out of the water.

Christa Avampato  13:45

So it’s the speed of the boat and you pulling on that handle that actually pops you up onto the ski.

Kate McGormley  13:51

Exactly. Yep. I don’t actually pull on the handle at all. You keep your arms straight and the boat pulls you up and that’s the honestly the biggest thing that is hard for beginners is like that control of you want to pull the boat and pull the rope.

Christa Avampato  14:09

I’m so curious to try. I mean, I’m kind of terrified. But I also feel like that’s part of joy too of like trying something new. And really like you said pushing yourself in a direction that you may not go and then I can imagine that absolute elation when you pop up on the ski and you’re like, “oh my god, I’m doing it!”

Kate, thank you so much for joining us. I love that you were able to share something joyful with us. We’re taping this now in in March but spring is on the way. That means summer is not far behind. And I hope you have many, many, many days of wonderful waterskiing with your boys on these beautiful lakes in the Midwest.

Kate McGormley  14:49

Me too. Thank you so much. It’s been really, really fun talking to you and I’m looking forward to listening.

Christa Avampato  14:54

Isn’t Kate delightful? I’m still terrified of the water but all the joy she gets from water skiing makes me want to give it a shot. If you try water skiing please let me know. I’d love to hear about your experience.

At the end of the podcast, I share something that brought me joy this week related to the episode. Given Kate’s focus on the joy of the outdoors, please check out the latest Fix Solutions Lab publication—The Joy Issue. Fix is a storytelling team at Grist, a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future. Fix was founded on a simple premise: promising solutions to the climate crisis exist — they just haven’t yet gained sufficient momentum to tip the scales.

The Joy Issue has stories about using joy as a tool for climate change activism. It’s the perfect blend of so many things I love that create the foundation for my life and career—top-notching writing and storytelling, joy, curiosity, and protecting our beautiful planet.

On Monday night I joined the Fix team in Central Park along with my friend, Kelly, who was visiting me from Buffalo. I got to meet some lovely people and chat about our commission mission to combat climate change with joy as one of our tools. They’ll be having more casual events like this so be sure to check out, follow them on social media, and contact them to get involved because our planet needs love and support from all of us.

Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with me. A big thank you to Kate for sharing her joy of water skiing with us you can find her on Instagram at kathryn.mcgormley. You can find me on Twitter at christanyc, on Instagram at christarosenyc, and through the website for this podcast where you can also find links to everything we talk about on this podcast as well as show transcripts. I’ll be back in two weeks on Tuesday, July 26th, with another interview episode of JoyProject. Until then, take care of yourself and take care of