Jamie Kumlien had a year that he probably wishes never happened. He began the year finishing up his Senior year of High School. For the last 3 years, the Kumlien family has been focused on Jamie's dad, Jim Kumlien. Jim was diagnosed with an advanced stage of skin cancer and has spent several years fighting it.
Jamie's Senior year Spring Break was spent in Florida with his family, Jim, who seamed to know this might be his last year, took his family to Florida for a month so they could spend a fun month together on the water. The rented a house and spent the days doing what they love most, barefooting and swivel skiing.
During that month in Florida, we met up with the family and asked them what their goals were for the year. The answer: "To attend as many waterski events as the kids could handle". This was to be the summer to remember.
While in Florida, Jamie participated in the Eagle Sports/Waterski Magazine photo shoot. He and Brendan page hit it off and wowed photographer Bill Doster with barefoot moves he'd never seen before. Jamie's barefoot skills are unique. He dropped out of 3-Event barefooting a couple years ago but has not stopped learning. The kid doesn't have a reverse side. He can do any trick what-ever direction you ask him to. And his experience in Show Skiing makes him a perfect barefooter. He lives for the spotlight and a chance to show what he can do.
We left Jamie and his family in Florida with a promise from them that they'd attend every Pro Waterski Tour stop, every showski event, and maybe even the US Barefoot Nationals.
The next time we saw Jamie was in early August. It was a week before the Division 1 Showski Nationals, and Jamie was a key member of the Rock Aqua Jays ski team, along with his brother & sister. We were in Milwaukee for the Malibu Open. Jamie was to compete in the 1st ever Pro Tour Freestyle Barefoot Challenge. He was there with Andre De Villiers, Brendan Paige, and Nolan Lough.
During Jamie's 1st round pass, he came a frogs hair from dying.. After dawning a brand new Eagle suit, he landed his last trick and started to butt slide, but instead of slowing down, he seemed to speed up. He ended up sliding in between a dock and Malibu boat next to it. Jamie's head missed the nose of the boat, but his hip bone caught the trailer strap cleat on the front of the boat. The cleat punctured Jamie's abdominal cavity. He was screaming as they pulled him out of the water. His dad rushed to his side and he was quickly rushed to the hospital, accompanied by Jim. He was heard saying; "I hope they can get this fixed by next weekend, my team needs me in the show".
Jamie spent the next several days in the hospital being operated on 3 separate times. He could only watch the next weekend as the Rock Aqua Jays took 1st at Skowski Nationals wishing he was there. His dad Jim got to drive for his sister Jacklyn at the Nationals only a couple days before he would begin a new round of aggressive cancer treatments.
Jamie was only back home a few days when his dad went in for treatment. The day after the treatment started, his dad passed away unexpectedly due to complications from the treatment. Jamie was now injured and was faced with an even worse tragedy. Over the next several days, while still recovering from his own injuries, he had to deal with the loss of his idol and help his mom and family deal with the loss. At the same time, Jamie was scheduled to start his first year at college. He had worked hard as a wrestler to get a college scholarship. That's a lot to saddle a 17 year old with.
We attended Jim's funeral in Janesville. Jamie was strong like his father would have wanted him to be. He stood for hours as practically the entire town came through the church to show their respects. His waterski family was there to support him. Only a week later, with his stitches just removed, he skied in the Rock Aqua Jay show in honor of his dad.
We called Jamie a couple weeks later to see how he was doing. He said he felt fine and just wished he could ski in some good weather. We told him he could ski in the Katy Ski Jam Pro event if he felt like it. We didn't think he'd say yes. But to our surprise, he came down with his family and skied like he had never been injured. Only two months earlier we had seen him in the hospital and now we were seeing him to a long-line back deep with his brother on his back. The kid will no doubt be giving John Debelak a run for his money in the Grit Iron Hall of Fame.
Despite all the challenges and hardships Jamie has been faced with in 2011, he has not lost his spirit for waterskiing, jumping, and barefooting. He didn't place 1st in any competition he entered, but that's not what this award is all about. He stayed in the game when most would have quit. He stayed to his plans of going to college and making his dad proud. Though Jamie may not have been in the limelight as much as other footers in 2011, he accomplished more than most people would have having none of the challenges he had to face.
Recently, Jamie was nominated the MVP of the Rock Aqua Jays Showski Team and was also named to the 1st US World Waterski Show Team for 2012.
I'm sure Jamie feels he doesn't deserve this, but being an inspiration to others in the sport has as much to do with what you do off the water as it does on, and sometimes more since we all spend most of our time off the water. At 18, he has a lot of challenges and new adventures ahead. I have no doubt we'll continue seeing this super talented, hard headed (literally), skiers on the water performing amazing acts on and off skis.
Congratulations Jamie! You do deserve it!