Recent graduate Maria Gerasikova—a Russia native who was professionally waterskiing by age 15—said her first exposure to the summer sport was at an indoor pool in the middle of winter.
“In Russia, athletes ski on a cable in the swimming pool during the winter so they can keep training even in cold weather,” Gerasikova said. “I saw them training for the first time when I was 12 or 13 years old. I was a swimmer at the time, and when I asked if I could try, they let me because I looked athletic, but no one expected that I would keep up with the rest of the team and find my way through so quickly.”
Within two years of her first attempt on skis, Gerasikova had fallen in love with the feeling of soaring through the water and doing tricks. She began training six days a week and was so successful that she began competing professionally on the international level. She traveled around Europe and the United States, and after graduating from high school, she realized she wanted to go to a university where she could continue to compete.
Her choice? The University of Alabama.
Though UA is well known for its football, gymnastics, and wheelchair basketball programs, not many have heard that UA also has a waterskiing team. And not only has UA had a team since 1970; that team is also currently ranked third in the nation by the National Collegiate Waterski Association.
For two years Gerasikova practiced with the team on Lake Harris, but then the unthinkable happened: she did a trick flip on the water and landed poorly, leading to a back injury that ended her competitive waterskiing career.
“I was very upset at first,” Gerasikova said. “Skiing had been a very big part of my life. But I soon realized that it was also a new beginning.
“Before the injury, I had spent so much time skiing that I didn’t really experience a lot of other things in life. Now that I had all this free time, I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing. I had to fill it up.”
Almost without skipping a beat, Gerasikova began to fill her life to the brim. To her double majors in political science and philosophy, Gerasikova added a third major in French—and even studied abroad in Paris for a few months. She tried rock climbing; she competed with the mock trial team; she acted in the College of Engineering’s Immature Radical Theatre troupe; and then she found ballroom dancing—and her mentor Dr. Richard Richards.
Though Richards leads UA’s competitive ballroom team with his wife Rita Snyder—an associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance—Richards is also the chair of the Department of Philosophy. And, like Gerasikova, he had had an injury that shifted the course of his life. Prior to coming to UA, Richards had worked as a professional ballet dancer, but when an ankle injury ended that chapter of his life, he turned to philosophy full-time and began ballroom dancing on the side.
“I hadn’t believed that I’d ever be able to do something again at the competition level, but Dr. Richards had a lot of faith in me,” Gerasikova said. “He both pushed me in dancing and philosophy, and he had confidence that I could succeed.”
Prior to graduating with a 4.0, Gerasikova was the vice president of the competitive ballroom dance team, winning multiple regional dance competitions, and in July she competed in a national event in Baton Rouge, winning first place in four dance categories.
With law school ahead of her, Gerasikova doesn’t plan to slow down. She will keep dancing, but she is also interested in learning to play the piano, ice skate, snow ski, and do acrobatics. She also intends to earn a dual degree while in law school because she thinks law alone may not challenge her enough. She would love to do a master’s degree in philosophy or bioethics.
“Perhaps even one day I’ll be brave enough to get a PhD,” Gerasikova said. “There are just so many options for my future.”■