Austin trick water skier Kay Nichols has died.
Nichols, 63, died of cancer Sept. 12.
Over the years, she won at least a dozen national titles and one world title while twirling across the water on her short, wide ski.
“She was an Austin water ski icon for sure,” said family friend Dick Gilliam. “Kay was one of the most genuine and nicest people I’ve ever known.”
Nichols grew up in Michigan, where she began competing when she was 7. By time she turned 21, though, she’d had enough of competitive water skiing. She gave it up, married a fellow skier (whom she met while trying to get a sinking speedboat to shore) and moved to Texas.
Then, when she was 28, with one baby in tow and pregnant with a second, she went to watch her husband David Nichols, a radiologist, compete in a water ski tournament. It took just one glimpse of the female competitors to persuade her to start skiing again.
In trick skiing, some of the tricks are done while holding the tow handle with the hands; other tricks are done with one foot attached to the tow rope by a collar, or “bear trap.” Someone in the boat operates a safety pin that is released when the skier falls. It takes a lot of trust; if the pin isn’t released quickly, the skier could be dragged through the water by her foot.
Nichols skied in her first national championships in 1981, at age 29. She won her first title there in 1987.
In 2006 she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She had surgery and underwent therapy and was back on the water competing a few months later.
“When you go into these competitions, you don’t think about winning, ” she said at the time. “It’s 90 percent mental, and if you think about it, you’ll fall.”