Determination to Win
A Miami Herald sportswriter once said: "In all my years of covering sports, I have never seen an athlete with more determination to win."
He was talking about Linda Lee Leavengood. She was 17 at the time, 1968, and she was a member of the United States Water Ski Team that had won the World team title in Sherbrooke, Quebec, the year before.
As the years passed, Linda cultivated that determination to become one of the finest women water skiers, overshadowed in her peak years only by the incomparable Liz Allen, her good friend who preceded her into the Hall of Fame.
Born February 25, 1951, Linda began skiing at age five after her family joined the Greater Miami (Fla.) Water Ski Club. By the time Linda was 11, she was competing at the national level. She won the national Junior Girls Overall Championship in 1964 and was off on a career that would bring her international acclaim, especially as a jumper.
One of Linda's skiing characteristics that helped carry her to the top was her ability--and determination--to hold onto the towline at all costs. When she set a new Junior Girls' jumping record of 86 ft in 1964, she went completely under the water on her landing but then bobbed back to the surface still grasping the handle to ride off the course.
She won a place on the 1967 U.S. team by holding on in a desperate last split-second cut toward the jump ramp on the robin Lake ski course at Callaway Gardens in Georgia. A few weeks later, she treated the startled spectators at the World Championships to one of her underwater recoveries on the Slalom course.
Linda added the Girls Division Overall title in the 1968 Nationals to her early accomplishments but her ability in the slalom and tricks disciplines paled in comparison to her spectacular jumping.
She set a Girls' jumping record of 110 feet in 1967, then when she entered Women and later Open Women Competition she began steadily rewriting the record book. Her 119-footer in 1973 broke the old record held by Barbara Cooper Clack, another Hall of Famer, by eight feet; then came a lea of 128 feet in the '76 Nationals, another 131 feet in the '81 Masters and a 136-footer in the '82 Masters. Her 1976 record gained her an opportunity to compete in another world tournament this time in Milan, Italy, where she won the jumping gold medal in 1977.
Her Masters leaps, along with another of 126 feet in 1981, were recorded as new standards in the Women II Division. She finished he r record-breaking with a jump of 119 feet in 1987 in Women III competition for those 35 and older.
In all, Linda won 10 National jumping titles, five in Open Women. She also took jumping honors five times in the Masters at Callaway Gardens, the scene of her wedding to Leonard Giddens in 1973, the year when she graduated at Georgia Southern College. At the time Linda was already a fixture in the Masters Invitational.
Her string at the Masters began in 1966 and, with only one break, ended in 1983 for a total of 17 appearances, more than any other skier, male and female, in the history of the tournament. Her only miss was in 1978 and she was there then as a spectator with her new born son Lance.
Linda has shared her expertise with countless youngsters who have trained at the 45-acre Giddens Lake near Eastman, Georgia. She and Leonard also have organized nearly 100 tournaments through the years, including the Southern Regionals as well as a number of intercollegiate meets.
Along the way, Linda has attained a Senior rating as a tournament boat driver. She has coached U.S. Water Ski Teams in World competition, and she has served on American Water Ski Association committees devoted to her primary interest in the sport in recent years, the development of junior skiers