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Barefoot skier learns the real medal was in the journey

Big Pine resident offers water ski opportunity to disabled veterans

Betsy Gilman performs a trick while barefoot water skiing. The 52-year-old will be hosting a ski clinic for disabled veterans in Perham on Aug. 8, 2022.
Contributed / Betsy Gilman
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DETROIT LAKES — Betsy Gilman quit her executive producer job at CNN to chase a dream of becoming a barefoot water ski world champion.

The 1988 Moorhead High School graduate’s journey all began on Big Pine Lake in Perham.

The daughter of Sharon and the late John Anderson, both Wadena natives, grew up watching her family and extended family skid across the water behind the family fishing boat. She was entranced by the sport, and when she turned 5, her wish to join in was granted. But, there was a catch.

“I was given three chances to get up and ski,” she said. “Otherwise I had to swim back to shore.”

Kicking her legs and swinging her arms back to shore didn’t quash her determination. The next day she asked for three more tries.


“That time I got it,” she said.

In her teens she was slaloming around a course created by the lake community. Gilman wanted to take it a step further and step out of her ski boot. So, she did.

In 2006, Betsy Gilman stands on the shore of her Big Pine Lake Home with a ski jump behind her. Her first Barefoot Ski World Championships jump attempt resulted in a bad landing. She passed out and woke up on the shore as her hip was being pushed back into place. The injury didn't stop the former Moorhead resident from pursuing the competitive contests.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune<br/>

“I would go a short distance and fall,” she said. “Boats need to go 40-to-45 mph to barefoot (ski) and we never had a fast enough boat.”

It wasn’t until Gilman reached her late 20s that she saved enough to purchase a boat that opened up the world of barefoot water skiing. On her first few runs, Gilman entered a meditative state.

While she achieved her dream of becoming a barefoot skier, she also found success in her career. She graduated from journalism school and found herself working for CBS Radio. That led to a 28-year career with CNN which concluded when she was an executive producer.

During that time, she continued to ski. Gilman even entered barefoot ski tournaments; her first when she was 30. That led to entering the world barefoot ski competition. She saw the level of skill she needed to be a contender.

“I was feeling like it was time for a change in my life,” she said. “I was 46 then and wanted to train full-time for the (barefoot) world championships.”

In 2016, she tendered her resignation and focused on training for barefoot skiing nationals and world championships. She practiced on lakes in Georgia, Florida and Minnesota for six months.


“I really wanted a gold medal,” she said. “I loved it; it was the best six months I have lived.”

Gilman earned medals at the national level and in 2016 placed second in jumps, third in tricks and fourth in slalom in her division. She left with a fourth place overall.

While athletes focus on the gold, the wise ones realize the true prize is the journey.

“When I think about that summer, I think about how fun it was to play hard for a while,” she said.

Betsy Gilman has a collection of medals for barefoot ski contests she has entered, including world champion medals.
Contributed / Betsy Gilman

She returned to the world stage in 2018, after starting Just Add Water , a media business. In her second go around, Gilman placed sixth in slalom, seventh in tricks and sixth in jumps. Overall, she earned a sixth place finish.

Gilman plans to continue her journey in competitions. While she is polishing her skills to continue reaching for the gold, she has a new goal in mind.
“I want to be the oldest woman barefoot ski jumper,” she said. “When I’m 90, I still want to be doing it.”

Disabled vets can learn to water ski Aug. 8

Gilman is offering a free water ski clinic for disabled veterans who live in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The event will be on Monday, Aug. 8 on Big Pine Lake in Perham and all ski necessities will be provided. Instructors and volunteers are all trained in water safety and adaptive water ski training. There is limited space. Sign-up at https://ems.usawaterski.org/veterans-learn-to-ski---perham--mn .

Trophies and medals fill a shelf at the Big Pine Lake cabin her grandfather built in 1937. She has won awards in barefoot ski tournaments that include three categories: slolom, trick and jumps. <br/>
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

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