Steel on skis and Southern charm off the water, Regina Jaquess boasts a not-so-secret weapon (her big sister Renee) and bottomless determination to help her rule the sport.
Spend enough time with Regina Jaquess, and a few surprises will eventually surface: For starters, she may be grace in motion on the water, but on land, “I'm a klutz!” she says with a laugh. “I can't walk without tripping over myself.” She's also squeamish: Before pursuing her degree in pharmacy, she had planned to become a veterinarian, but “I couldn't really do the whole blood thing,” she admits. And then there's this: What Regina Jaquess wants, Regina Jaquess gets. Take the time when she was 7 years old, and she convinced her dad, Jim, to pull her on Atlanta's Lake Jefferson on a freezing February day. While her older sister, Renee, sat in the car with the heater running, “I had on a hooded sweatshirt with gloves, and Regina's out there trick skiing!” recalls Jim. “We got back in the car, and Renee looks at her and says, 'Regina, you're crazy.' And Regina says, 'You don't understand, Renee! I'm gonna be world champion.'”
What may have sounded like a precocious boast from a 7-year-old is now a fact: At 23, Jaquess is the reigning champion of women's waterskiing, having won overall at the 2005 World Championships in China, along with a boatload of medals in nearly every major pro event. With a self-deprecating charm that has made her the sweetheart of the sport, she's also the rare woman skier who's equally adept at tricks, slalom and jumps; at the U.S. Open in Okahumpka, Florida, last year, she handily dominated the podium at all three events. And with her intense focus as unwavering as ever, she's the one to beat yet again at the upcoming World Championships to be held in Austria this August. “She's a champion in everything she does,” says Renee, 26, who is herself the 2006 WWA Women's Pro Wakeskate champ. Growing up, “If I would do a trick, she would do it 800 times,” Renee says of her kid sister. “She is an extreme perfectionist.”
Which — for a hyper-achiever who also has checked high-school basketball star, prom queen and now doctoral-degree college student off her to-do list — is probably putting it mildly. The younger daughter of Jim, a corporate attorney and former competitive skier at Georgia State University, and Karen, a high-school computer teacher and also an amateur skier, Regina strapped on her first pair of skis at 2½, just as her sister had done at that age. “I saw her out there skiing, and I wanted to be out there skiing,” says Regina. “I said, 'I can do that!' She pushed me, and she didn't even realize it.”
As a youngster growing up in Atlanta, Regina had another key motivator, as well: winning. Scoring her first ski-tournament trophy at 5 years old, “I thought it was the coolest thing,” she says. “I held it the whole way home. I was falling asleep in the car, and my dad tried to take it from me, and I said, 'Don't take my trophy!'”
Plenty more hardware followed, along with stints training with Jack Travers and at Linda Gidden's ski school, plus spots on the juniors' team for both Renee and Regina, the latter of whom quickly found herself drawn to the sport's challenging nature. “You get on the water, and it's all up to you,” she says. “You always have something new to learn, and you can always have something to improve. You can never get bored with it.” Soon both sisters were traveling the world to compete in tournaments, “meeting people from everywhere,” says Regina. “It was amazing.”
Things were about to take an even more dramatic turn. At 14, Regina had just won the trick event at Junior Masters when she was approached by champion trick skier Cory Pickos, who runs the renowned Pickos Water Ski and Wakeboard School in Santa Rosa, Florida. At the time, “I knew Cory was the best skier out there — a legend,” says Regina. “I never thought he would come up to talk to me.” But there he was, not only chatting with her on the dock, but even helping to roll her rope. “He said, 'I only roll up champions' ropes,'” she recalls. “I thought, 'Oh my goodness!'” Then came the offer that would change her life: “He said, 'You should come ski with me.'”
One problem: Mom and Dad weren't too keen on letting their little girl leave home to train and live year-round with another family some four hours away. “We both told her no,” recalls Jim. “She got really mad. We were all in the car together, coming back from a tournament. She said, 'If you don't let me go, I'll hold it against you. You're holding me back!'” Eventually, Regina's self-described stubbornness won out. “It was only going to be for a year,” she says of the arrangement to live with the Pickos family. “But I ended up staying through high school.”
In true Regina fashion, she not only adapted but quickly flourished in her new surroundings. “She moved there, didn't know anyone, and ended up being prom queen, a star basketball player and landing a job at the Red Bar, the coolest local bar in Destin,” says Renee. “That's Regina.” Still, there were times “I was a little homesick and I did miss my friends,” concedes Regina. “But my parents weren't really that far away [in Atlanta] and they came down a lot.” She also had the Pickos family nurturing her. “Cory's wife, Rose, took me in like one of her own kids,” says Regina. “Here I am — this teenager — and at the time she had her own two little kids [Adam and Alexis]. I felt like, 'I can't believe I'm crowding into this family!'”
Today Regina proudly considers herself to be an honorary Pickos. “I'm like their daughter now,” she says. “I'll be talking to my friends, and they think I have this totally dysfunctional family because I talk about Rose and Cory as my mom and dad, and then I talk about my real mom and dad. So they say, 'Are your parents divorced?' And I say, 'No, I've just got two families!'”
For his part, Cory says, “Jim is definitely Dad — he is a get-it-done person. Anything important goes through Jim first.” Still, he acknowledges that he also takes a paternal role with Regina. “I kind of baby-sit her,” says Cory. “I watch her moods closely, especially at tournaments, and I make sure she eats. I'm always telling her to put her shoes on or get warmer clothes. I help her with equipment and try to calm her down when things aren't going so well.”
Which, for the ever-ambitious Regina, isn't too often. These days her biggest challenge is juggling her dual roles as a champion skier and a hit-the-books college student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe — not an easy task, particularly when, say, Worlds happen to fall the first week of pharmacy school, as they did in 2005. “I came a week late because I was in China skiing at the championships,” she says. “At the end of the class the professor said, 'That will complete chapters one through four.' And I said, 'I'm already four chapters behind? Oh no!'” After word got out about her win, “people started to realize what I do,” she says. Does she ever feel like she's leading a double life? “My sister and I always laugh — we feel like we have several lives,” she says. “We have a life in the fall and spring, and then another life in the summer, and then another life at Christmas break when the four of us are all at home together. It's fun. I would never trade it for anything.”
Through it all, it's the sisterly bond that continues to provide the most strength to both Regina and Renee. “She's taught me everything — good and bad — I've learned from all her experiences,” Regina says of Renee. Does Renee ever look to her little sis for advice? “She's Regina Jaquess — of course!” she says wi
th a laugh. Although they don't get to see each other as often as they'd like — Renee works and trains at The Projects in Orlando — they remain each other's biggest boosters. “Renee won't see me ski for a while, and then she'll watch me in a tournament and pick up on something right away,” says Regina. As for Renee's wakeskating success, “I'm so happy for her that she's found something she loves and enjoys,” says Regina, who admits the sport isn't exactly her strong suit. “I tried wakeskating one time — I suck!” she says good-naturedly. “We tried it at The Projects. The guys were laughing! Renee was a complete natural, and here I am, trying to ride it like a trick ski. I'm like, 'I can't function!' But Renee's amazing on it.”
As for competition between the two, “there's no envy there at all,” says Regina. “It's surprising it's not there. But it's never been there, ever. Not with anything.” Concurs Renee: “It's all about having fun. Our favorite thing still today is to go behind the boat and do doubles.” And when they get together off the water, their distinctive personalities are hard to miss. “We're both very goal-oriented, but maybe I can party a little more,” says Renee. “She's in bed by 11!” Adds Regina mock-defensively: “I do go out sometimes! But for the most part, Renee's definitely got the social aspect down.”
Of course, it's tough to squeeze in party time between 40-hour-a-week pharmacy rotations and daily sets, as she plans to do this summer. With an eye on a spring 2009 graduation, “it's becoming a lot harder to find time for on-water skiing,” concedes Regina. In Santa Rosa this summer, “I'll maybe do three sets, a set of trick, jump and slalom, a day — and that's if I'm lucky. Hopefully I'll just be able to maintain for right now, and then I'll graduate in a year and a half and be able to go back and train all day.” When Worlds roll around in September, “I'll be doing my pharmacy rotation, but I'll also be back in school, so it's going to be hard. I'm going to have to take off of school. Hopefully, my friends aren't going to hate me too much!”
Hate waterskiing's sweetheart? Impossible! But marvel at her superhuman focus and skill? Absolutely. Looking back on the fierce determination she flaunted that cold day on the lake 16 years ago and the remarkable journey she has made since then, Regina is typically plain-spoken and matter-of-fact. “When my mind gets made up,” she says, “that's usually the way it's going to be.”
HER OVERALL SKILLS
Coach Cory Pickos has a hard time picking one thing that makes Regina Jaquess such a ski champion. “Regina really has everything, the whole package,” he says. “She's strong and built for overall — she's a good height, a good athlete, really a competitor.” That said, here's his assessment of her skills in each event.
Slalom: “She's the most natural here, though she has more of a physique for overall. In her training four sets a day, one set will be slalom along with two for tricks and a jump set.”
Tricks: “This takes more time training. She could have had more sound basics if she had started this at an earlier age, but she's really good. It's not necessarily her easiest event — she really works at it.”
Jump: “Regina is not as experienced and doesn't have as much time for this, yet she can jump with the best of them. She's happy to jump and take third or fifth. She doesn't want to get hurt. It's about jumping smart to do well in overall.”
10 TIPS FROM DAD
Considering Jim Jaquess' experience launching and nurturing Regina's love of skiing, we asked him to share advice on how other parents could do the same with their kids — well, everything except maybe the world champion part.
1. Never push a child to ski; encouragement is good, but there is a fine line between the two.
2. Start out making water skiing an interactive event, even before kids can hold onto a rope. Let them ride on top of your jump skis with you holding the rope to get a feel for moving along over the water's surface. They will be a lot calmer about going it alone later on trainers.
3. Patience is most important in the learning process.
4. Skiing is more exciting when you participate with other people. Find other kids at or near the same age who ski. Then it becomes contagious.
5. Get your child excited about tournament skiing, not just recreational skiing. With Boys 1 and Girls 1, they can start skiing and be competitive at a very early age.
6. Become involved with junior skiing in your area, like the AWSA Junior Development program. This is where it all starts, and the more you are involved, the more your child most likely will be involved.
7. Seek out coaching from the best as your child develops. There's nothing like going to ski school to get a kid fired up. There are several that focus on young kids, including Cory Pickos' World Ski Center, Jack Travers' Sunset Lakes, Linda Giddens' Ski School and April Coble-Eller's Training Center.
8. Establish achievable goals — weekly, monthly, seasonal — and implement a
reward system for the really young athletes.
9. Kids need heroes. Encourage kids to strive to be like the elite athletes in our sport. You could not find better role models.
10. Most importantly, keep it fun. Always make it a fun day on the water, which is going to make them want to come back the next day. Break up the serious training with a few spins around the lake on the tube or with some chicken tricking with their pals.