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A Natural Talent for Water Skiing
Lori Powell-Drell is perhaps the most versatile female water skier of all time, competing and holding national titles in both the three-event and barefoot divisions since her elementary school years and world titles in barefooting.
Lori learned to water ski when she was six years old on Lake Bonney in Lakeland, Fla. The family enjoyed skiing together so much that they joined the Lakeland Water Ski Club and Lori and her brother, Rick, began to become more and more involved in amateur water skiing.
In 1977, Lori entered her first water ski tournament in Caloosa, Fla. She was eight years old. Lori said she remembers getting her first trophy in Junior Girls tricks, but not where she placed.
Lori's talent for water skiing was natural. Sensing that she could go far in the sport, Rick Powell became his daughter's diehard instructor. Even though he didn't consider himself a particularly good water skier and had no formal training as a coach, Rick learned all he could to make sure his daughter had the best instruction possible in traditional slalom, tricks and jumping and barefooting. When Lori was interested in learning a new trick, her dad would find our how it was done and then go through the process step by step so he could teach Lori how to do it properly.
Lori's skiing continued to improve, and she entered the Southern Regional Championships in 1981. The 12-year-old sensation won first overall in the Junior Girls division placing first in slalom and jumping and second in tricks. Her performance qualified her for the 1981 National Championships where, as a relative newcomer, she placed second in tricks and overall in her division.
The following year, Lori swept all three events to become Junior Girls overall champion at the Florida State Water Ski Championships. At Nationals that year, she took second overall again by placing second in slalom, third in jumping and fourth in tricks.
The future looked bright for Lori as she moved up in the ranks of traditional water skiing. But a new love was slowly taking over Lori's training time - Barefooting.
While members of the Lakeland Ski Club, the Powell's met Roger and Janifer Ellis and their children, Scot and Shelly. In early summer of 1980, while watching Scot execute the slalom course on lake Hollingsworth, Lori noticed that as he would come out of the end of the course, Scot would put his back foot on the water. Later that day, Rick asked Roger what Scot was doing. Roger said that Scot had seen some skiers on the Lakeland team barefooting and had asked to try it. He was thinking about teaching Scot the next weekend and asked if Rick thought Lori and Rick Jr. would also like to learn the new skill.
The Powell's' and the Ellis' spent the entire following weekend teaching their kids to barefoot. Scot and Rick Jr. were up before the weekend was over, but when the sun went down on Sunday, Lori had still not managed to ski on her bare feet.
Lori was not a quitter, and she was determined to master barefooting. So after school on Monday, the Powell's' again took to the waters of Lake Bonney. Before evening, Lori completed her first successful step-off and was barefooting. "It was a pretty incredible feeling," she said. And from that moment on, she was hooked.
One day while they were practicing on Lake Hollingsworth, Ed Finley, one of the world's top barefoot competitors at the time, saw them. He introduced himself and encouraged Rick to get his kids into barefoot competition. They began to train with Ed three mornings and three evenings each week. At the time, Rick Jr. was much more interested in barefoot competition than Lori, so he began entering some tournaments. Then, Rick broke his foot while jumping.
Lori began getting more individual attention and Ed realized the potential that lurked in this pint-size package. She had an enormous amount of natural ability for barefooting. Ed suggested that the Powell's' let Lori enter the barefoot tournaments that Rick Jr. had been planning to complete in before his injury. They agreed and so began Lori Powell's nine-year domination of women's barefooting.
At the end of that first amazing summer, Lori's barefooting had improved so much that she qualified for the National Barefoot Water Ski Championships. When the tournament was over, Lori had swept the Girls division, placing first in starts, tricks and slalom to take the overall title. But the best was yet to come. Because of her outstanding abilities in women's barefooting, 11-year-old Lori earned a placed as alternate on the 1980 U.S. Barefoot Water Ski Team.
Lori's training schedule became grueling and sometimes confusing. The Powell's were trying to alternate weekends between barefoot tournaments and three-events tournaments. But the pressure only seemed to increase Lori's determination to be the best in both worlds.
In Addition to placing second overall at traditional Nationals in 1981, Lori continued to dominate at her second Barefoot Nationals, placing first overall once again with wins in all three events. Lori fell to second place in starts at the 1982 Barefoot Nationals but continued her winning streaks in tricks, slalom and overall.
Lori went to the Barefoot World Championships as a full-fledged member of the 1982 U.S. Team. Her goal was to win the women's overall title. She came away with fourth overall, but won gold medals in both starts and jumping, which only increased her determination to be the best women's barefooter in the world.
In 1983, Lori continued to hold her titles at Barefoot Nationals, but her fourth place performances at the Water Ski Nationals were beginning to show the stress of trying to train for both sports.
Lori traveled to West Germany in 1985 to compete in the World Barefoot Championships. Again, her quest to win the Women's overall title fell short. Lori placed 3rd in Overall, and came home with her dream still alive.
After the 1985 ski season, Lori made a tough decision. It was becoming obvious that she couldn't keep up the hectic training schedule anymore, so she chose to give up her three-event career and pursue barefooting fulltime. "It was like trying to be at the top of both golf and tennis," Lori said. "Both involve a ball, but they are totally different sports. Barefooting came much more naturally to me, and I already had national and world records in barefooting, was running a ski school for barefooters. Barefooting was really supporting our skiing at this point."
In 1986, with another U.S. National women's barefoot title under her belt, Lori went to the Barefoot Worlds in Germany. With 3rd in Wake Slalom, 2nd in tricks, and 2nd in Jump, the world overall title continued to allude her. And then tragedy struck.
When she returned home from the Worlds, doctors found a tumor on Lori's spine. After surgery to remove the tumor, doctors told her she should give up barefoot competition. In fact, they recommended that she not ski at all. But Lori's goal of being the world's top woman barefooter had not been realized. She knew she had to give it one more shot.
Lori rested during the 1987 season, barely training at all. However, she still managed compete in Regional and Nationals and hold onto her overall titles. Throughout that whole grueling year, Lori went to a physical trainer and chiropractor almost three days each week, and by the 1988 ski season she was in much better shape. She was ready for the challenge of her life.
All of her years of training and the last months of painful rehabilitation culminated in the ultimate triumph for Lori. For the first time, she represented the U.S. at the Barefoot Worlds, but this time, her dreams were realized. She won the Women's Barefoot Worlds, placing 3rd in Slalom, 1st in Tricks, and 2nd in Jump. Her victory was made even more sweet when her brother, Rick, won the Men's overall crown. They remain the only brother and sister to have won the Men and Women's overall titles in the same World Championships.
Lori, never a quitter, finally had to admit that it was too much. "I had achieved all the goals I wanted to achieve," she said. "I was in too much pain, so I said, "enough is enough." I have no regrets."
Lori entered Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla., and spent three years in the premed program there. Then, she went on to obtain her Register Nurse's degree from Polk Community College in Winter Haven, Fla.
While attending Florida Southern, Lori met her husband, Tom Drell. He was star pitcher on the Florida Southern Baseball team, so it was no surprise when he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers to play pro ball. The couple was married in February 1991, and Lori remained in school while Tom played with the Tigers for three years. By the time Lori earned her degree in December of 1992 Tom had decided baseball was not something he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
On December 23, Lori and Tom moved to Atlanta where he returned to school and she took a job as an RN at Northside Hospital. She has now worked as a specialist in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for almost six years, and was recently promoted to the management team where she will be able to further develop her nursing and leadership skills. The couples have a daughter, Katie, who is four years old.