Courtesy Brian Heeney
I earned my first gold medal at the 1982 USA Barefoot National Championship. I was 20 years old. In 2021, I won a gold medal in the Open division at the USA Barefoot National Championship.
I was 59 years old. The strategy that has kept me competitive for four decades primarily consists of three elements: a winning mindset, positive health habits and smart training. Improving each element separately complements and adds value to the other two. For example, in March 2021, I put effort into my on-water training and also minimized sugar in my diet even more than usual. I got leaner and lighter, which made my training more effective, helping me win gold. I believe my healthy lifestyle of good nutrition and not consuming alcohol is part of my longevity in the sport.
Winning the gold in the Open division at 59 boosted my confidence and added to my winning mindset. I didn’t view age negatively, instead using my experience to become more focused and disciplined. I have been successful by learning correct technique and focusing on the basics rather than the end result. Practicing with bad technique only makes you good at bad technique. Falls and injuries are signs there is a flaw in your technique or training. Learning by trial and error is not effective. By understanding correct technique and consistently remembering the basics, you will reinforce good habits and not learn undesirable ones.
I am always working on the basics, whether for barefooting or any of the other wake sports that I do, such as slalom, trick skiing, wakeboarding and wakesurfing. How do you know when you have correct technique? It’s when a trick or skill—no matter the level of difficulty—is easy to do on a consistent basis. That is the sign you are on the right track.
When I compete, I have a goal to do well in competition, but I don’t think about competing against others. I get inspiration from those who are successful and incorporate that into my training. I think of it as a competition against myself and seek to continually raise the bar for my skills.
During the past four decades, I also have coached water-skiers, from beginners to elite. This has added to my understanding of what works and what doesn’t, and of what leads to success and what leads to getting stuck in a rut or even suffering injuries. Cliches such as “no pain, no gain” and “practice makes perfect” lead you down the wrong path.
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Besides having all the enjoyment and the positive health benefits I get from barefooting and other wake sports, the strategy I have developed allows me to continuously improve my skills. Working on my skills with success increases the enjoyment factor exponentially.
No matter your skill level, barefooting and other wake sports are great ways to have fun with family and friends and get an excellent workout for your mind and body. Join me and get out on the water today.