Being a neuroscience major with two minors in biology and personal health and wellness would be enough for students, but not for Morgan Williams ’22. During her first two years at St. Thomas, she competed for the university’s swim and dive team, and now fills the role of team manager, along with finding time for her water skiing passion as a member of the Twin Cities River Rats show team. Williams has sought to bring that passion to St. Thomas by founding the Waterski and Wakeboard club.
What initially developed your interest in water skiing?
I grew up going to the cabin every summer, just like many Minnesotans do. When I was five, my dad decided it was time for me to learn to water ski because he had grown up going to the cabin and water skiing, barefooting and slaloming. I fell in love [with it]; I started on two skis then learned how to slalom and then learned how to barefoot once I hit college.
So how did you initially get involved with the Twin Cities River Rats?
Once I learned how to water ski, my dad found them on Facebook. Around age eight, we started going to their shows each summer. Finally, when I was in high school, I thought that I would try out after graduation. I knew how to ski, and I knew how to swim; their only requirement is knowing how to swim, and they'll teach you anything else you want to learn.
I thought it was just the perfect time. I was done with club swimming and was in the transition of waiting to go to college, so I joined. At first, I knew no one on the team and it's a group of 80 to 100 of us depending on the season so it was overwhelming at first, but everyone was so friendly, and taught me anything I needed to know. I already knew how to ski on two skis (obviously!), but day one they got me on someone’s shoulder and up into a pyramid and I was just hooked.
Do you have a favorite act that you perform during the ski show?
There are a bunch of different acts in the show – barefooting, jumping, ballet line, pyramids, doubles. I’d say my favorites are pyramids and ballet line; with pyramids you’re up there with everyone. I started as a mechanical engineering major at St. Thomas, so I have a brain for problem-solving. Every single time you go off the dock it’s a new problem that you have to try to solve, because maybe someone fell. Maybe you lost a topper, maybe you lost a baser and you must figure out how to make the best pyramid possible for the show and for the fans.
While working together to get people who aren't in their normal spots up in those spots, so everyone is working together, pushing and pulling on each other but still making it as safe as possible. I like pyramids for the team aspect. I really enjoy ballet line as it’s the only individual act I do, so it’s the one place I’ve found that I can grow a lot as a water skier and learn new things and become more confident in my skiing.
Do you have a favorite memory from competing for St. Thomas’ swim team?
My favorite memory was my last meet [at the end of my sophomore year]. I'm really interested in health care, so I wanted to pursue other aspects while still being a part of the team. The family aspect is a big part of the team. When I swam my last race, my coaches didn't know it was my last race, but a lot of my teammates did. In the race I actually swam my best time, and my teammates came out and gave me a huge hug. I was emotional and I started crying. I’d been swimming my whole life but just that camaraderie in the team and knowing that I always have that family and that they’re always here, is awesome.
What was the biggest change for you, when you transitioned from competing to being the swim team manager?
Trying to figure out how to still fit swimming into my life. I was working at a hospital at the time during the peak of COVID-19. Just transitioning from being an athlete to taking a step back and still being supportive of my friends and my teammates. I need to make them feel good about what’s going on and push them through that instead being right there next to them during the pain of practice or whatever else.
What has the change from D-III to D-I been like for the swim team?
Overall we had a pretty clean transition; the swim coach Scott Blanchard is incredible and has managed to keep the family aspect at the forefront of what we’re doing as we were transitioning to D-I. [The family aspect is] something a lot of swimmers were scared of losing because of the higher level of competition. It’s harder being a D-I athlete because there’s a lot involved in it.
Race wise the team has done far better than I ever imagined. I have seen swimmers like Jacob Pinot, Carlo Mallory and Emma Ahmanson – three of my best friends – drop ridiculous amounts of time and work harder than they’ve ever worked in their whole life. Overall, it’s obviously a hard transition, as there’s a lot of extra time that needs to be put into and by the team now that we’re D-I. It went smoothly in general and a lot better than anyone could have imagined.
When did you first have the idea to create the Waterski and Wakeboarding Club at St. Thomas?
I was trying to think of things I could get involved in when literally everything was shut down or moved to Zoom. I had a couple friends that were on the University of Minnesota water ski team, and they encouraged me to form a water ski and wakeboard club at St. Thomas.
I thought if I could get together with some students from the University of Minnesota’s team to help launch the club, find a place for us to ski and combine with them to learn what they’re doing at their school, I can bring it to St. Thomas. I worked with them for quite a few weeks to decide what the club here would look like.
It was hard because no one was able to meet to approve clubs on campus at that time because there was nothing on campus going on. So, I just put a post out on social media asking if there was anyone who liked to water ski and would want to do something during COVID, that is COVID safe, meet some new people and do something different.
We had our first event and 15 to 20 people came out to one of the U of M student’s houses who already had a setup. There were some people that had literally never skied before who we taught to ski, there were some people who had skied their entire life and were leaps and bounds beyond what I was doing. It was just fun to be with people again and still be safe while doing it.
For now, we're hoping to just keep it small and get together every once in a while to water ski and compete if members want to do that.
What are your dreams for the Waterski and Wakeboard Club?
I'd love for us to be our own official club at St. Thomas. I am working with a couple of organizations – the Twin Cities River Rats and the Shakopee Shockwaves show ski teams – to see if we could rent their boat.
Ultimately, if we could get access to a boat and find a good ski site, there are a couple great ski sites in White Bear Lake.
Right now we're technically the Minnesota Water Ski Club so we’re disaffiliated from both schools, but can still go compete if we want.