Balancing Fitness & Fun

Cypress Gardens Ski Team Keeps Winter Haven Family Active

story and photos by PAUL CATALA

Daily activities for the Palomaki family started with baseball games and fishing, but it wasn’t long before the family was hooked on skiing.

Now, the whole Palomaki family, along with the rest of the Cypress Gardens Ski Team, use ropes and water to maintain their physical and mental health.

Mikko Palomaki is a member of the Cypress Gardens Ski Team, an extension of the original ski teams that used to represent the Cypress Gardens attraction in Winter Haven until it closed in 2009. There are currently about 180 members on the volunteer ski team ranging from age 3 to the 70s who practice and perform out of MLK Park on Lake Silver in Winter Haven.

During a recent Tuesday practice on the lake, Palomaki and his 13-year-old son, Jaxson, took to the water for a series of rehearsal runs while his wife, Jessica, and 14-year-old daughter, Madelyn, helped fine-tune the performance from the shoreline.

During a break, Palomaki, 39, described what he sees at the physical and mental health benefits of water skiing.

An Illinois native who moved to Winter Haven at age 2, Palomaki says besides the practical fun of water skiing, the sport helps him and his family physically and mentally in a myriad of ways through muscle core strengthening, increasing metabolism, improving balance and coordination, and stress relief. He says he and his family ski almost daily and even had a ski ramp built in front of their house where they can barefoot ski and practice pyramids and other maneuvers.

“We do everything; there’s nothing we don’t do,” says Palomaki, who started skiing at 10 years old.

According to the National lnstitutes of Health, other health benefits of water skiing include muscle toning, leg strengthening, calorie burning, and resistance training.

Water skiers use a variety of muscles in the legs, arms, and core. Leg muscles — including the quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles — are what help them control themselves and maintain balance. Arm muscles are strengthened through work with the tow rope and balance.

Depending on body weight, a person can burn 400 to 600 calories per hour. A 180-pound person, for instance, can burn 504 calories in 60 minutes by water skiing.

Universal Benefits
As 12-year-old ski team member Emily Bataille waited for her next maneuver around the lake, she spent a few minutes with her arms outstretched above her head as she stood on the launch dock. A member for about a year, she says stretching for skiing is as important as it is for any other sport, exercise, or other physical activities.

“You have to be safe. You definitely need to stretch before you start,” she says. “I’ve noticed (skiing) helps build muscles and stamina. I look forward to these practices and especially the shows.”

Palomaki says he can relate to the importance of being properly prepared before hitting the water. He says that even though Jaxson played baseball before joining the team, he and his family were “out of shape, just fishing and doing lazy things.”

“But we joined the team and it changed our whole lifestyle. Instead of just doing fun things, we’re doing fun things that come with a workout to be more productive. We don’t go to the gym and things like that, but everything we do…it’s all healthy,” he says.

“It’s incredibly beneficial because it’s a hard thing to just want to go to the gym, but when you’re going somewhere to have fun, you don’t realize you’re getting a workout,” he adds.

Water skiing can also help to reduce stress and promote relaxation while improving overall mental well-being. The excitement of rapidly skiing on the water can boost mood and increase self-confidence while reducing anxiety.
One member of the team who’s been around long enough to reap plenty of the physical and emotional rewards of skiing is Mark Voisard of Eagle Lake, a pioneer, national level competitor, innovator, and judge in water skiing for more than 40 years. While at the recent ski team practice, Voisard, 69, who was instrumental in forming the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team, says the amenities at MLK Park and Lake Silver are perfect for promoting water skiing and its benefits because there is plenty of space for skiers and observers and ample room for equipment storage. He began skiing at 6 years old and skied at Cypress Gardens from 1977 to 1992 and was with the park until it closed in 2009.

“It’s really good for balance, it’s good for building upper body strength and legs and overall, it takes a lot of stamina,” he says.

Palomaki and other ski team members like Levi Welch, 10, say the sport isn’t just about standing up and showing off. He says there’s a lot more that goes into the maneuvers, stunts, and skills.

“The muscles that you are actually developing, a lot are not seen,” Palomaki says. “It strengthens your core. It strengthens your neck and your back. It’s incredible in all of its benefits.”

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