Jeff Hancock returns home from competing in the Disabled Water Ski World Championships

by: RON HALVORSON - Jeff Hancock is a competitive slalom water skier and has competed in four tournaments this year. At Nationals in Sacramento, Calif., this year, he broke his own world's record in his event, and qualified for the World Championships.

Jeff Hancock, the 48-year-old manager of River Run Ranch, west of Prineville, gets around pretty well these days.

His gait gives little indication that he lost his left leg above the knee 20 years ago in a tragic accident on that same ranch.

One reason for his confidence is the new state-of-the-art prosthesis he was fitted with last year — a C-Leg produced by Ottobock. With a microprocessor, gyroscope, and proximity sensors, he can do just about whatever he wants to do. The leg is quickly cast aside, though, when he straps a water ski on his right foot and does what he really wants to do — competitive slalom water skiing.

Hancock has become an accomplished athlete — so much so that last month he returned from Italy with a bronze medal from the 11th Disabled Water Ski World Championships in Milan.

“We had the most points,” Hancock said of the USA team, as he deflected any personal accolades. “The whole team won a gold medal. This was the first time any disabled’s (team) ever done it three times in a row.”

For his part, Hancock took third place in the men’s standing slalom. According to USA Water Ski, athletes are put into three groups based on their disability — seated, standing, and vision impaired.

The USA team brought 12 athletes to compete against 11 other countries. Italy won the silver medal, and Australia took third.

“This is the first Worlds I’ve ever been to,” said Hancock. “It was incredible. I’ve never been out of the country. Italy was interesting — all the old stuff.” He also toured Switzerland, which he characterized as “absolutely gorgeous.”

Hancock’s story has been well publicized, including by Portland’s KOIN television. In a Central Oregonian story last year, he related that he took up the sport when he met a man at Eastside Prosthetics and Orthotics, in Portland, Ore., who wanted to learn to be a cowboy.

“He said, ‘I will teach you how to waterski if you let me hang out with you and teach me how to ride and rope,’” Hancock was quoted as saying. “I keep skiing and I don’t think he is cowboying anymore.”

That was in 1995. Hancock said it took him an entire year before he could even get up on the ski. Obviously, he’s not a quitter.

“Then I got hooked up with Terry Winters, who is a pro skier out of California,” he said in a recent interview. “He’s the one that kind of got me competing, and going to these tournaments.”

He competed in four tournaments this year, including the Nationals in Sacramento, Calif., where he broke his own world’s record in his event (established in 2005), and qualified for the World Championships.

“But I ski almost five days a week,” he said, “because we have a private lake on the ranch. We've got a gorgeous lake out here. It’s just as good as any lake in California.”

The lake — which measures approximately 2,000 ft. long and 300 ft. wide — was constructed in 2005 on River Run Ranch property owned by Lorry Tognoli, specifically for water skiing. The shoreline is even formed in such a fashion that a ski boat’s wake won’t hit the shore and double back on itself, which helps to keep the water calm.

“It’s just (long) enough to have a slalom course on it, with two islands on each end,” said Hancock.

Janet Huddle is the office manager for Eastside Prosthetics and Orthotics, and said she’s known Hancock for 15 years.

“He’s an amazing man,” she said. “He’s very happy. He continues to work, and does his thing. He ropes, he brands cattle, and does all of that stuff. That’s not easy for someone with two legs, let alone to lose your leg above the knee. It’s crazy.”

Eastside’s owner, Jeff Warila, as a friend and sponsor accompanied Hancock to the competition, and paid for Hancock’s wife and daughter to go to Italy, as well.

“It was pretty exciting for us to have our patient be involved in that (World Championships),” Huddle said.

Hancock has also made an impression on his coach, Cris Converse. Converse said they’ve worked together for about four years, and actually, each coaches the other.

“He’s super motivated,” she said. “He stays focused, and he works, and works, and works. He improved by about 16 balls from the beginning, in April, to when he went to Italy. It was huge. People just don’t do that.”

“I love it,” Hancock replied when asked why he does what he does. “I’m not disabled when I’m water skiing, at all. I can compete with some of the abled bodies pretty easy.”

He’s also grateful for the support he’s received, especially since he had to pay a portion of his own way to Italy.

“I’d like to thank all the people of the community. They donated some money toward me getting there. There’s too many people to name, but they know who they are.”

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