The parking lots at Okeeheelee Park in West Palm Beach, Florida look like foster homes for out-of-state sport utility vehicles. There are Explorers from Texas, Passports from Pennsylvania and Jimmys from Georgia. They have toted skiers from all over the land to this gala of water skiing, the U.S. Nationals.
A white Suburban with Florida plates slowly pulls up a gravel path. It's Cindy Todd's. She is the pillar of the Todd family, a Hall of Fame skier, daughter of former national trick champion Sandy Hutcherson Leavengood, wife of Nationals driver Les Todd and mother of Girls 2 overall favorite Joy Todd and Girls 3 slalom qualifier Tenille Todd.
Across the parking lot is a Ford Expedition. It is empty and has been for the past half-hour. From it came a couple overallers, Boys 3 skier P.J. Wolfe and his sister from the Girls 3 division, Caroline Wolfe, and their parents, Harry and Julie. They're the water-skiing pride of Homer, Michigan. Their reputation doesn't extend much outside of Homer, but for now the path they took to the Nationals has landed them on common ground with the Todds.
Both the Todds' and Wolfes' are agricultural families, but the similarities stop there. The Todd family is hoping for gold, and to carry on the family tradition of national champions. While the Wolfe family is hoping to just come away with a medal.
The Wolfes' season starts sometime in May, when the ice finally thaws off the lake and they tow their homemade ski jump down 26 Mile Road to the water. Their dad doesn't ski and drives the boat in point and shoot fashion. Carolyn and P.J. coached each other to the nationals.
The Todd's are encouraged to train year round by their coach and former gold medal winning mom. Their personal lake sits right on their property, and rarely drops below the temperature of a cold shower. Their driver and dad has probably logged enough hours on Nationals Courses to qualify for his captain's license.
It's Tuesday, August 11, Cindy Todd's lips tighten as daughter Tenille bulldogs her way through a 28-off pass, a personal best.
Now it's Caroline Wolfe's slalom pass.
After a clean pass at 28, Caroline takes three at 32 catapulting her into first place.
Meanwhile, over on the jump lake, Joy Todd focuses her sights on Dad after two moderate jumps. His gyrations tell her to pull longer and get wider. The result?
She takes the lead, with an 87 footer, it holds up, giving the Todds three generations of gold.
At the slalom course, Caroline Wolf stands paralyzed, watching as 14 of the nation's best skiers try to claw away at her first place position.
Competition knows no compassion, and in the end sixth place becomes a cruel reality for Carolyn, with no metal.
It's 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, and P.J. Wolfe is with his Dad at the jump lake.
For someone who claims not to be nervous, P.J. is walking very gingerly with his Connellys.
P.J.'s first jump is 115 feet. His next two jumps put him in roughly the same spot, short of his 130 foot goal, but respectable for a kid who's ski ramp was frozen in the lake until May.
Later that afternoon Joy Todd would add two more gold medals to her haul, in slalom and overall. Tenille would watch, settling for her personal best in slalom. Then the four girls would climb back into the Suburban for an impromptu trip to the Keys.
As for Caroline Wolfe, she did not go home medal-less. She eked out a fifth in jump and a fifth in overall. P.J. settled for 12th overall after finishing 10th in tricks, 20th in jump and 30th on a slalom ski that he found in a friends barn.
Before heading back home, Dad would finally come clean. “We're not skiers,” he says. “I just drive, they ski, and here we are at Nationals. We're just glad to be part of it.”
Maybe they're still largely unknown south of Homer. But for a few days the Wolfes were players in the nation's biggest three-event tournament, crossing paths with the Todds and 300 other families at the end of their own little journeys