A DECADE ago, water-ski wizard Alfredo Alongi was gearing up for an assault on the World Championships, having already claimed British and European titles.
In a final practice session at Lochearnhead, Alongi, from Musselburgh, was at the wheel of his boat towing colleague Nick Butler when tragedy struck.
An up-draft forced the boat 15 feet into the air and into a 360 degree spin.
“The feeling was like receiving the hardest punch imaginable in the face and then . . . nothing,” he recalled. “Thankfully I was attached to a chord, which activated a kill switch on the engine immediately, but doctors said I initially had a five per cent chance of survival.
“I broke a leg and ribs, but the internal damage was worst. Eight-and-a-half months in a wheelchair followed and I was breathing on a respirator for a while.”
Listening intently is 17-year-old daughter Marisa, who will soon seek to carry on some unfinished family water-skiing business when she heads for Tenerife in September to contest the world junior title.
“My dad’s injuries haven’t put me off. Water-skiing has given me a real focus in life,” said the girl who will shortly undertake a course in event management at Edinburgh College.
Marisa’s story is also one of comeback. During earlier school days she lost focus, partly through being bullied which led to her taking matters into her own hands, culminating in a suspension.
“I was fed up being called to the school, so Marisa and I sat down and agreed a plan,” recalled Alfredo. “I’d invest in the equipment to help her progress a fledgling interest in speed water-skiing in return for a new approach to schoolwork.
“We went to Liverpool and bought a boat and Marisa kept her side of the bargain.”
So much so that recently, at Hunstanton, she became the only Scottish skier to qualify for the world junior event. She also finished sixth out of 15 junior competitors in last weekend’s prestigious Diamond Meeting in Antwerp, Belgium, when making her international water-skiing debut in an event that attracted senior world champions.
It was only last September that Marisa really began competing seriously and immediately she gained a silver medal in her first race at Weston-super-Mare.
“I felt so proud the first time I represented my country and I am sure Marisa felt the same in Antwerp where the 35-mile course was based on a canal and really quite dangerous,” added Alfredo.
Alfredo, now 52, was born in Sicily but brought to Scotland, aged three, when dad Victor became head waiter at the Caledonian Hotel.
The restaurant trade runs in his family and indirectly led to involvement in water-skiing. “I was making pizzas when a customer, Jim Killen, invited me to try water-skiing,” he recalled.
As well as being an accomplished sportsman, Killen also found fame as owner of Lucy, the water-skiing Jack Russell terrier who appeared on the That’s Life television programme in the 1990s.
“I was bitten by the water-skiing bug; it is strange how things work out,” said Alfredo. “Around the time that Lucy was capturing the heart of the nation I was being persuaded to buy a new protype long-board ski.
“When the new model arrived I found I had been sent a size 12 rather than the size 7 ordered. I put the ski to one side in 1996 and forgot about it – until Marisa, who coincidentally was born that year, discovered the long board. Spookily, that was at exactly the stage when she fitted a size seven ski boot!”
Marisa said: “Mentally it is a very, very draining sport as I can be water skiing at speed for over half-an-hour in competitive events. I go to the gym four times a week and need to retain a good sense of balance on the water.”
Fate played a part in Marisa’s uptake of the sport, as growing up in Musselburgh means access to some of the best training conditions.
Alfredo added: “Because of the way the tide comes in on three sides near Fisherrow, the water can be quite rough, which makes preparing for events easier. Sometimes it feels as though I am going over the equivalent of two-foot high road bumps at 60mph on skis – but that is where the excitement comes from!”
In conjunction with David Finlayson, an on-board observer whose task includes feeding out the tow rope at the appropriate amount, Alfredo Alongi will continue to steer the boat and his daughter’s burgeoning career while seeking out sponsorships.
“It can be expensive travelling to competitions, maintaining the boat and even providing fuel, but it is so rewarding seeing Marisa doing her best to make Scottish water-skiing proud and hopefully go a bit further than me at world level.”