By Morgan Bryce
Auburn University sophomore Sarah Switzer finished with four medals at the 2019 IWWF Disabled Water Ski Championships held in Oslo, Norway at the end of last month.
A competitor on the sport’s national level since 2014, Switzer overcame a crowd of 40-plus competitors representing 11 different countries to finish with an overall gold medal for Team USA, silver for seated women’s jump and seated women’s overall and bronze for seated women’s slalom.
“I knew I skied my best to prepare for this event and Team USA had a week to ski on the water at the site in Skarnes, Norway to get adjusted to the water and time change, etc. … I’m so blessed to be surrounded with such amazing people and have opportunities like this,” Switzer said. “Medals are a physical reminder of a job well done. When a skier medals that means the time in the gym and time on the water that they put in had paid off.”
Switzer is a member of the Auburn University Club Water Ski Team and practices at lakes in Athens, Wilsonville and Shorter. During the last five years, she has emerged under the coaching of Joe Ray and competed in her first international event in 2017 held at Myuna Bay in Australia.
Born with spina bifida, Switzer has always led an active lifestyle in spite of her disability. She and Ray’s connection dates back to 2007, when the two met at a Super Sport Saturday event in Birmingham.
Ray, competing in a wheelchair basketball tournament at the event, asked Switzer’s family if she would be interested in joining his nonprofit organization, Adaptive Aquatics, which provides adults, children and veterans with disabilities opportunities to waterski. This marked the beginning of an extremely productive and successful coach-athlete relationship.
While she has had a solid start to her young career, Switzer said sports is more than just competing against others, but instead a vehicle for finding one’s intended life path.
“Being involved in any sport, especially for a person with a disability, can be a lifeline to a healthy life and a community of supporters and friends that understand what you’re going through. My “ski fam,” “Auburn family” and actual family means the absolute world to me,” Switzer said. “They push me to be the best version of myself on and off the water.”
In addition to slalom and water skiing, Switzer is an active member of Auburn’s wheelchair basketball team. She is pursuing a degree in wildlife ecology and management.