Flying the Friendly Skies
When Barbara Cooper Clack entered her first water ski tournament in 1957, at the age of 13, she set two long-range goals: 1) to become the first female water skier to jump 100 feet, and 2) to earn a place on the Untied States Water Ski Team. By 1965, she had accomplished both, but it was a long, uphill battle.
"It's a wonder I ever learned to ski at all", Barbara recalls. "That fist summer we had a boat - in 1956 - Dad almost gave up on me. I was all over the water in every direction at once, and when I tried to kick off a ski, it took me all day".
However, the dogged determination that was to serve her so well later in her career, finally won out over frustration. By Christmas Eve of '56 she was keen on tackling the jump ramp on Lake Hollingsworth near her home in Lakeland, Fla. After 25 attempts and 25 spills, "I kept letting the rope go in the air" she finally stood up and skied away. Two years later, she set a new Girl's jumping record of 84 feet.
After that, jumping records seemed to fall, first in Girls' Competition and then in Women's', almost every time Barbara entered a tournament. She realized her first goal by leaping 100 feet in the Florida State tournament in 1964. She kept up her record-setting pace - with time out while she was "Flying the friendly skies" as a stewardess for United Airlines - until she raised the women's standard to 111 feet in the Masters in 1971.
Although Barbara was making headlines with her jumping, she was more than holding her own in slalom and tricks. She won the women's national overall title in 1963, only a few months after her son Scott was born. Two years later, she won all tree events in capturing the Masters Cup, an unprecedented feat at the time.
The year 1965 was to become the most spectacular of her career. Following her Masters triumph, Barbara finally realized the second of her long-range goals by leading all contenders for places on the United States Water Ski Team that would compete in the ninth biennia World Water Ski Championships in Australia, where she won the women's slalom title. In the National Championships that same year, she won the slalom and jumping, narrowly missing another overall victory by a single missed buoy in slalom or a faulty toe side slide in tricks, either of which would have given her the overall title for the second time in three years.
Although competition was Barbara's first love in water skiing - and she continued on the tournament trail into the Senior Women's Division through the 1980 Nationals - she became one of the premier women show skiers of her day. Her early exploits in tournament skiing attracted the attention of the producers of the Cypress gardens show, and she joined the troupe in 1959. Before she ended her show skiing career in 1966, Barbara could do anything that women performers were called upon to do in the spectacular, including the demanding role of star ballerina.
Barbara also was among the first women bare-footer, learning to ski with no skis, within a year after she was introduced to the sport.
Knee injuries along the way led to many frustrations for Barbara, but she learned early "from my Mother" to take the disappointments with the same grace she demonstrated in victory. She took to heart - and likes to quote to younger skiers whom she never hesitates to counsel - the sign-off of a local sports commentator of the day: "Remember, whether you win or lose, be a good sport".