From water skis to physical therapy not a big leap for student

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations | September 19, 2013

Image with caption: Maggie Tierney shows off her water-skiing skills.

Maggie Tierney shows off her water-skiing skills.

Maggie Tierney, a third-year physical therapy student, has seen it in their demeanor. She's seen it in their eyes.

Adults. Kids. Paraplegics. Quadriplegics. Wounded veterans, home from the war. On the water, they all come alive.

"It's a blast," Tierney said.

Tierney is a water-skier. She has been on water skis since she could walk, if not before. Her dad is a former professional water-skier. ("There's not a lot of money in it," she said.)

picture disc.
Maggie Tierney, working on a physical therapy education project, studies the movements of the kids at the UNMC Child Development Center
She's involved with something called UCanSki2. It's adaptive waterskiing for people with various disabilities.

"We find that our program provides a therapeutic recreation that reduces depression and anxiety while improving well-being and quality of life," its website says.

Tierney said, "Some have struggled with not being involved in anything anymore."

Then they get out on the water, and look out.

"It's just huge for some of these people."

She skis alongside, holding the tow rope with one hand; with the other, she keeps the "basket" balanced, keeping it from turning over into the wake.

"It's exhausting," she said.

Riders are strapped into what looks like "a chair mounted on a big sled." Most can't swim, and besides, they're strapped in. If they tip over into the water, it's not good.

They have to trust their escorts, like Maggie, to help keep them steady.

"It's scary," she said.

It takes courage for someone to take this thrill ride.

No wonder they're exhilarated.

At the end of the ride, Tierney is thrilled, too. That feeling is what pointed her toward her career. Toward UNMC.

She liked working with people. Tierney loved seeing the effect therapy could have. She decided she wanted a career doing stuff like this.

Tierney competed on Iowa State's club waterskiing team (now she's helping the Huskers start one, too). She's too humble to mention she's a former college club Division 2 national champion in women's jump, with a distance of 81 feet. Instead, she'd rather talk about other things:

She's in her last year of PT school.

It's been her best jump.


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Sandra L. Willett
September 20, 2013 at 1:54 PM have a gift! Love how you are sharing it! do you! Your ability to share stories in a powerful, concise way is wonderful! And love the sidebar story!!!

Brent Saron
September 19, 2013 at 10:48 AM


Fran Higgins
September 19, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Cool stuff, Maggie! I used to work for Henry Winkler's cousin. Not only do I know the reference, I regularly hear it from my husband, as he's quick to point out the MANY TV shows that start out great and fail miserably after a few seasons. He stops watching the minute there's a hint of shark jumping, but I usually hang in there, hoping it'll improve again, and not wanting to admit I'm wr...wr...wr... Ayyy!