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Saskatoon blind, deaf water skier ready to make waves at world championships

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A Saskatoon water skier who is blind and deaf has partnered with a well-known artist to fundraise for the national adaptive water ski team.

Ryan Riehl began losing his vision at age nine as a result of a tumour growing on his optic nerve. In recent years he has also lost his hearing, but he hasn’t let it get in the way of doing what he loves.

“I feel the rush go through my body, just feeling the wind, the water, the spray; there’s nothing like it,” he said.

The 39-year-old has competed in several water skiing competitions over the years. He set a Canadian record in 2012 with a 14.3 metre jump, according to his website.

He competes in three categories including tricks, jumps, and slalom.

“How many blind people do you know in the world that go over a ski jump at 35 miles an hour,” said David Wassill, Riehl’s coach.

Wassill communicates with Riehl by writing letters on his hand.

“He trains hard, his routine is dialed in, he can do it in his sleep,” Wassill said.

Wassill communicates with Riehl by writing letters on his hand. (Stacey Hein/CTV News)

Riehl is gearing up to compete on the national team at the World Disabled Water Ski Championships in Australia next spring.

To help fundraise for the team, he partnered with Saskatchewan artist Glen Scrimshaw to create and sell a painting.

“I was just amazed that someone blind wanted to do a collaboration with me, and I followed through with it,” Scrimshaw told CTV News.

He painted the northern lights, while Riehl painted the trees.

Saskatchewan artist Glen Scrimshaw painted the northern lights, while Riehl painted the trees. (Stacey Hein/CTV News)

Copies of the painting are sold on Scrimshaw’s website.

“We have 14 disabled athletes with all the equipment and so it’s a cost, and I just wanted to be able to help out the team,” Riehl said.

He told CTV News he wants to turn his silver medal into a gold one at the upcoming competition.

He said he hopes to inspire others with disabilities. “I hope they are interested in starting water skiing.” 

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