Flyin' Ryan

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:50 AM ET

The sky is overcast with dark clouds, and rain pelts the region on all sides of the twin lakes at Predator Bay but not a drop spills on the well-kept secret waterski training facility south of Calgary.

Only the truly dedicated are out on this day, although guys like Ryan Dodd -- the world's sixth-ranked overall waterskier -- call it business as usual.

"Normally, in Alberta, this is pretty typical," said the 22-year-old pro last week before getting in some practice at the site of this year's Canadian National Waterski Championship that begins today.

"This summer, it's been so hot, it's been amazing."

A little chill isn't going to keep the determined product of Olds from performing a few tricks and hitting the ramp. Prepared with a hoodie and a Mastercraft knit hat, he jogs and stretches to warm up before peeling layers and hopping into the water for his session.

Only two things can keep Dodd off his skis -- not including the ice that limits his profitable months.

"Injuries and rest," said Dodd, whose season is a little longer than that of most Canadian waterskiers thanks to a full scholarship at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

"I had a tournament in March. I started training full-on February 1st. I take a week off here and there to do other stuff, so you don't get burnt out. It can get pretty overwhelming after a while."

In a province known more for its frigid, fast-flowing mountain rivers and dinosaur-hiding desert terrain than it's lakes, it's hard to imagine a kid growing up with aspirations of heading to college on a watersport scholarship.

Dodd isn't your typical Albertan recreational skier, happy to head up to Sylvan Lake a few times a year to work on his tan and impress the ladies watching from the shores.

He was a teenage phenomenon who knew well before graduating from high school he would be accepting a full ticket from a school south of the border to continue his education in both books and boats.

"The waterskiing community, even worldwide, is pretty small," Dodd said. "There's rankings published, so you know where you sit in the world. Even at a younger age, by the time I was 14, I was number one in the world for under-17. You knew that I could have already got a scholarship then."

Louisiana at Monroe wasn't a foregone conclusion, however. Dodd didn't settle on a university until the last minute.

"I kind of just thought about it and waited," he said. "Right when I was done high school, I was like, 'Oh man, I've got to find a place to go to school.' "

Arizona State and another Louisiana branch at Lafayette made the short list for the teenager, who still holds a record as the only 16-year-old to make a 200-ft. jump.

Nearly seven years later, Dodd admits in hindsight that achievement is pretty remarkable. Even now, a couple of months away from his 23rd birthday, his personal best is around 230 ft.

"At the time, I just thought it was pretty typical," said Dodd, who competes on the pro circuit in the jump, trick and slalom events. "I thought it was just OK. It didn't seem to be anything special.

"I never really realized what everyone else was doing. Nobody else has done that at all -- not even close.

"Now, looking back at it, it seems pretty amazing since I'm not jumping a lot farther now. I guess you learn the right way with the right coaches and take the right approach, and it comes a little easier."

It helps when your coaches are world and Canadian record holders. Genetics may also have something to do with it.

His dad, Bruce Dodd, introduced a nine-year-old Ryan to the sport and later dammed a creek to create a lake on their cow pasture in Olds.

And while Bruce is an accomplished skier, his friendship with Canada's first family of waterskiers -- the Llewellyns -- helped his son develop rapidly.

"I got started skiing outside of Olds and some in Innisfail with my dad," recalled Ryan. "He's a multiple-time Canadian open men's national champion, and he skied for 20 years. He started out in Sylvan Lake with the Llewellyn family.

"Everyone, if they know waterskiing, they know Jaret Llewellyn."

Llewellyn is the only person to beat Dodd in the jump event at the recent Pan-American Games in Rio and also claimed gold in tricks with Dodd placing third.

The protege is getting close to besting his mentor and has taken the technical aspects he learned from Llewellyn and applied his own method of coaching since leaving for school.

"I've sort of really just done my own thing. When I went off to school, I was pretty much my own coach," said Dodd.

"There aren't enough people at a high level to just say, 'This is the right way to do it,' so you've got to make your own way in waterskiing."

Things have worked out well. Proud to pull on the Maple Leaf for the Pan-Ams, which is as close to an Olympic experience as a waterskier can get, Dodd would like to dominate this week's nationals before heading to the worlds, where he'll attempt to medal for the first time as a senior.

One of his goals this week at Predator Bay -- which is bidding to host the 2009 World Waterski Championships -- is to "try to inspire a few people and keep the sport growing."

If the cloudy training session was any indication, he's already done that. At least one skier out for a seminar was stoked about the chance to meet Dodd and watch him practice.

The more who do could help turn Alberta into a competitive watersport factory.

"There's a ton of people that ski. Sylvan Lake, there are big lakes around, and there's tons of boats sold. The Mastercraft dealership in Edmonton actually sold the most Mastercraft boats in the world -- they won an award for it. I guess the oil money in Alberta is doing something," said Dodd.

"But competitive waterskiing is something different. It's harder to get into. I think that's the issue with competitive waterskiing -- it's not as accessible as it needs to be for everyone to do it."

A place like Predator Bay, though, is the perfect place to start.

"It's a great site and the location, being near Calgary, is amazing," Dodd said.

"The support from the ski club here is huge. It's the largest group of people I've seen that is really, really into the sport. I think it's great."

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What: The 2007 Canadian Nationals Waterski Championship

When: Aug. 14-19

Where: Predator Bay Water Ski Club (www.predatorbaywaterskiclub.com)

Who: The best waterskiers in the country, including members of the Canadian National Waterski Team.

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AT A GLANCE

Ryan Dodd

Born: Nov. 21, 1984 (Age 22)

Hometown: Olds, Alta.

Recent achievements: Silver in jumps, bronze in tricks at 2007 Pan-Am Games; Second in men's tricks and jumps at '07 Moomba Masters in Australia; Currently sixth in jump and 11th overall in world rankings

Unbreakable record?: Only 16 year old to jump 200 ft.


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