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Job is Also an Adventure for Leachman : Water-skiing: Former record-holder looking to make her mark--again.

May 16, 1991|LAURA PALMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — You hear the "tick, tick, tick" as the car slowly climbs the track. You anticipate the fall that awaits. Suddenly, the descent begins, so quickly your body is thrown against the seat. You're jolted around the first turn, then the second. As the car completes the final turn you let your body relax, trying to catch your breath before the car comes to an abrupt stop.

It's that roller-coaster feeling--the anticipation, the thrills--that has kept Jennifer Leachman, 27, water-skiing since age 5.

"You can ask any Joe Water-skier, and he'll tell you, 'Water skiing is addictive,' " said Leachman, a professional for the past six years. "Slalom is like a roller coaster. You start out slow, pick up speed as you're going across the wakes. You go from 2 miles an hour to 70 (m.p.h.) in a split second. It's a thrilling experience."

So is going to work every day in a bikini and wetsuit.

"Going to the beach is going to the office for me," Leachman said. "It's having a job oriented around a recreational and fun atmosphere. We do it seriously, but there's always an atmosphere of fun. There's not many jobs that you can wear a bikini and be in the sun."

Leachman, a former world record-holder, is one of the featured competitors in the Michelob Dry Water Ski Tour from Friday through Sunday at Mission Bay's Fiesta Island. San Diego is the second stop of eight-city tour, which opened in Orlando. The next stop will be June 8 in Lakewood, Colo.

Last year, Leachman competed in only a couple of stops but plans to complete the tour this year. In Orlando, she finished fourth.

When Leachman, now of Orlando, was growing up in West Virginia, water-skiing was simply a recreational activity done with family on a summer afternoon.

By the time Leachman reached college age, water-skiing was still three years from becoming a professional sport. So when Leachman was offered a full basketball scholarship to Georgia Tech, she gladly accepted, although water-skiing still was her first love.

Leachman played at Georgia Tech from 1982to 1985, becoming an all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, but when water-skiing became a professional sport in 1985, she saw her chance.

She completed college at the University of Central Florida in Orlando on a water-skiing scholarship. There, she was a two-time national intercollegiate slalom champion and in 1985 tied the world record in slalom.

"It was a tough decision to leave (basketball) but water-skiing is more glamorous than sweating in a gym," Leachman said.

When she began water-skiing, she competed in all areas; slalom, trick skiing and distance jumping but soon decided she could be more successful by specializing.

"I was more of a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of none," Leachman said. "So I decided to be the best in one, I needed to be more focused. Slalom seems to be the premier and I'm kind of tall (6-foot) for trick skiing and distance jumping."

Leachman shared the world slalom record from 1985 to 1987 then had sole possession from 1987 until October.

"In some ways it's more motivating to me to break someone else's record," Leachman said. "I always had anxiety over if someone was going to break it. Now that someone has I can concentrate on breaking it."

Leachman usually takes four months off training, but since her world record was broken, she has increased her training and plans to take only two months off until she has reclaimed the record.

Leachman is more involved with the sport than simply a competitor. She is working to not only promote the sport but also improve environmental conditions.

With environment issues cropping up more in the news, Leachman is trying to form an association called "League of Environmentally Aware Sportsmen" which will "promote awareness when using water and protect it." Issues include making sure boat users don't throw trash in the water or spill gasoline.

Leachman will compete in the World Championships in Austria the last weekend in August. This will be Leachman's third trip to the Worlds, which are held every two years. Two years ago, in West Palm Beach, Fla., Leachman, who was skiing with a broken ankle, finished sixth.

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