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Mary Murphy, 89; water skier set age, endurance records

August 12, 2007|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Mary Murphy, a water ski enthusiast who set age and endurance records when she rode a hydrofoil ski from Long Beach to Catalina and back when she was 84, has died. She was 89.

Murphy, who had colon cancer and Alzheimer's disease, died Aug. 2 at a secured-living facility in Stanton, her daughter Mary Klarich said Saturday.

Murphy's family, including her husband, Nick, and their four children, started water-skiing together at lakes and off the coast of Southern California in the 1950s. When she was in her mid-70s, her son Mike taught her to ski on a new contraption he and a business partner had invented.

Instead of standing on one or two traditional water skis, the hydrofoil skier sits in a chair mounted on a single ski, which is about a foot wide and about 4 feet long. A double-winged hydrofoil extends below the ski into the water. As the strapped-in skier is towed behind a boat and gains speed, the hydrofoil lifts the board and the skier glides above the swells.

For many years the Murphys enjoyed a Sunday morning tradition of water-skiing to Catalina before breakfast. The hydrofoil ski ensured a smoother ride across the rough ocean, and in 2002 Mary set a world record for age and endurance when she made the 62-mile round-trip journey from Long Beach in 5 hours and 17 minutes.

"I'm not tired," Murphy told The Times afterward. "It gets me out of the house."

She first rode the hydrofoil ski to Catalina on her 79th birthday. The next two years she skied both directions. In 2003 she was featured on the television program "Ripley's Believe It or Not!"

"I just love to ski," Murphy, then 82, told The Times in 2000. "To me it's just so relaxing. I can just go forever."

She was born Mary Mikulich on March 25, 1918, in Mellen, Wis. She met her husband while working in an airplane factory in Cleveland. In 1941 they married, and in the early 1950s they moved to Compton and later to Los Alamitos.

Murphy made her last Catalina crossing in March to celebrate her 89th birthday and kept skiing until May, when the effects of cancer slowed her down.

"She was a tough gal," her son Mike, a professional water skier, said Saturday.

In addition to her children Mary and Mike, Murphy is survived by two other sons, Nick Murphy, also a professional water skier, and Pat Murphy; six grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; a sister; and a brother. Her husband died in 2003.

A memorial service to celebrate her life is planned for September at Long Beach Marine Stadium. Her family suggests donations in her memory to the Alzheimer's Assn., 225 N. Michigan Ave., Floor 17, Chicago, IL, 60611-7633. Details:

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