Chris Walker has been water skiing since he was 5 years old, hitting the water on different lakes around Indiana.
Although Walker has been passionate about being on the water for as long as he can remember, the past several years, Walker’s time as the coach for Ball State University’s Waterski and Wakeboard Club has meant a lot more.
In 2015, Walker’s son, who led him into the coaching world of watersports, passed away from melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
“You never stop grieving,” Walker said. “At first it was hard to even get in the boat. You just quickly realize there is no way he’d want me to quit.”
With more than 20 years of coaching in his pocket, Walker has yet to quit, and he doesn’t plan to any time soon.
Where It Began
The Waterski and Wakeboard Club, initially named the Muncie Waterski Club, was originally solely waterskiing, beginning as a group open to everyone in the Muncie community. One day a week, the Ball State team practiced on what used to be a part of the Muncie Water Bowl.
Walker was about 23 when the club began in the 1980s. He continued to hone his craft and passion for waterskiing until the late ‘90s when his son, Nick Jarvis, grew an interest in wakeboarding.
“I was not very good at it,” Walker said. “I was a skier, not a wakeboarder, but since my son got so good, I eventually learned how to wakeboard.”
Walker started Jarvis in watersports at the age of 3, and he was a “natural.” Walker went to some of “the best coaches in the world” to train his son.
Eventually, when Jarvis started at Ball State in the fall of 2000, Walker moved from helping tow members of the club from time-to-time to becoming the coach, and they started to integrate wakeboarding into Ball State’s club.
The Ball State club was competing outside of the collegiate level at the time, and it led Walker to start running tournaments. He ended up serving as president of U.S.A. Wakeboard from 2007 to 2012.
Walker said Jarvis was good at all watersports, but he was an “unbelievable wakeboarder.”
“[My son is] a big part of my life,” Walker said. “He really got me involved in actually trying to coach a team to go to nationals.”
While Walker’s son never made it to nationals, Walker was able to get a team to qualify shortly after he graduated.
“I think about him every day,” Walker said. “He inspires me today. He was so talented and such a hard worker. He achieved so many things I never could do.”
Now a grandfather, Walker continues to help members of the Waterski and Wakeboard Club voluntarily, donating his boat, a 2015 Moomba, and some equipment that has stayed with the club over the years.
A Firm Foundation
Every week, from the beginning of the academic year until mid-October, 22 members of the Waterski and Wakeboard Club hit the waters, training to improve their skills and make it to tournaments.
Anyone can join the club, whether they’ve never been on the water or they’ve been practicing for years. Each participant just has to pay $195 in dues for boat gas.
Instead of training on the Water Bowl, the members now go on the Case family’s 15-foot deep private lake, which is leased to them for only $1 a season. The Cases are Ball State alumni, so they allow the club to practice there in the evenings Tuesday through Thursday.
Although Walker had been to nationals to help run it multiple times, he was finally able to help qualify the wakeboarders for the first time in 2012.
“Getting the team to nationals, that was really exciting,” he said. “It was exciting to get the riders to that level where they could qualify to go.”
Walker said they haven’t made it back since 2014 because they don’t have as many members and cannot practice as often as bigger schools in their tournament like Indiana University and Ohio State University.
Despite this, the club is currently training for their upcoming tournament at the Great Lakes Conference in Van Wert, Ohio, Saturday, Sept. 23 and Sunday, Sept. 24.
“I taught four people in one day how to waterski,” Walker said. “Watching somebody ski for the first time, that’s the best, to be able to show someone how to waterski and then get up and get on the water.”
He most enjoys seeing the expressions of the other members on the boat, seeing them light up with excitement for their teammates. He called watersports a family sport because of its ability to bring people together.
‘A Family Sport’
Walker has been a role model for sophomore secretary Coleen Davis. The art education major had a similar background to Walker, as she has also been water skiing since she was 5 years old but only started wakeboarding when she joined the club her freshman year.
Davis has been training to improve her wakeboarding skills. During practices, Walker drives and watches, giving the students tips to enhance their abilities.
“Coach is absolutely amazing,” she said. “He is just the kindest, and it's so great that he does this for us.”
Davis is most known for being a slalom skier and plans to compete in the slalom, trick skiing, and jump skiing events for this weekend’s qualifying tournament. Even when not competing, members of the club travel to the tournaments to camp out and cheer everybody on.
Davis said all those involved with the club are kind and supportive.
“I think everybody finds their group of people at Ball State that they enjoy spending time with and people they get along with,” she said. “This is definitely where I found my people.”
No matter the experience, Davis encourages students to consider joining the club and try out watersports. Students are welcome to take a free test run the first week of school.
The positive attitude of the team helps her not to feel ashamed, instead helping her to stay motivated and try new things.
“It's nice to have a break from being at school all day and just getting to come here and just hanging out with a bunch of cool people,” Davis said.
Growing on the Water
That freedom is something that drew president David Shellabarger to the club as well.
The senior construction management major didn’t expect to be president of the club, but after the club wasn’t sanctioned to continue during COVID-19, there wasn’t a good foundation of members. Shellabarger came in and started from scratch.
“As a college board or club, it's just cool to see people get away from the books,” Shellabarger said. “Get away from the stressful environment of four walls, exams, homework, due dates and all that stuff.”
He was excited to take on the challenge of being the president.
Shellabarger didn’t try out wakeboarding until joining the club.
“[Coach] got me up on a wakeboard my freshman year, so I’d say he’s definitely progressed me from getting up to being able to do a two wake trick,” Shellabarger said. “He knows his stuff.”
Despite Shellabarger being the president, he believes Walker is the one who cares about the club most. Although Walker said helping the Waterski and Wakeboard Club is a big time commitment and requires a lot of support from his wife, he loves getting to share the sport and plans to continue it as long as he is on the water where his son once thrived.
Contact Lila Fierek with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.