Gabbie Taschwer ’18 doesn’t quite walk on water, but she’s almost that good.
At the Show Ski World Championships in September 2018, she and her U.S. teammates became the first female water-skiing trio ever to perform a triple helicopter spin in competition.
The trick involves sailing off a ski jump, spinning 360 degrees in the air, and sticking the landing in unison. It had never been attempted — let alone accomplished — by three women during any tournament in the world, according to Gerry Luiting, a U.S. team coach and a chair for the International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation. “The crowd gave them a huge standing ovation, and that doesn’t happen at the world championships unless it’s pretty amazing,” he says. “It’s analogous to a standing ovation at the Olympics.”
There is no shortcut to learning the helicopter spin or any other trick, Taschwer says. “It’s just a lot of crashing until you figure it out. It’s a high-risk sport, but high reward, too.”
Luiting praises Taschwer as among the best water-skiers in the country. She does it all: swivel skiing, barefoot skiing, pyramid formations, jumps, and tricks. “I’ve watched her since she was a little girl,” he says. “She doesn’t see being a woman [as] a barrier, and that’s awesome. She essentially does all of the traditional girl acts in the show and many of what traditionally have been guy acts.”
“She is truly fearless,” adds Julie Patterson PhD’18, one of Taschwer’s teaching assistants at the UW who later became a friend. “She has motivated girls across the world to break down all boundaries in the sport of water skiing.”
Taschwer’s connections to the UW and the sport run deep. She grew up in nearby McFarland, learning to ski on Lake Waubesa at age three with her parents, both former professional water skiers. Her father, Jeff Taschwer ’84, is now a pharmacist at the Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison. Her mother, Lori, works on campus for a surplus equipment program, SWAP.
Gabbie started skiing as a paid performer with the Tommy Bartlett Show in the Wisconsin Dells when she was a high school freshman. She continued to ski there through college and also competed nationally with the volunteer Mad-City Ski Team. As a member of the UW’s Water Ski and Wakeboard team, she placed third overall for women skiers at the 2018 collegiate conference tournament.
Although competing in world-class competitions as a student was often tricky, Taschwer graduated in December with a degree in kinesiology after three and a half years. She wanted to finish school as quickly as possible to maximize her years of professional skiing in peak condition. To stay on track, she took summer courses and studied between performances on the docks of the Tommy Bartlett Show.
For her final kinesiology practicum, Taschwer combined her schoolwork with her passion and volunteered with Colsac Skiers, Inc., a water ski school on Lake Wisconsin for children and adults with disabilities, including veterans injured during military service. “It was so wonderful to give others an experience that means so much to me,” she says.
In March, she will start as a full-time water skier for the highly acclaimed Holiday Park Ski Team in Germany, following in the wake of her parents, who skied with the team decades ago.
Taschwer rarely gets nervous as a performer these days — with the slight exception of that triple helicopter spin. “I tried to tell myself it was just another ski show, but I had a few butterflies,” she says. “It was pretty cool to make history.”
Published in the Spring 2019 issue