Cleia Stern competes at water ski nationals
LOCK HAVEN — Cleia Stern, 14, of the Lock Haven area, competed last week in the U.S. National Waterski Championships at Maize, Kansas.
She entered the championships as the Eastern Regional champion, a title she won in regional competition July 21 and 22 in Monroe, N.Y., and she was ranked seventh in the nation for her performances over the past 12 months.
The daughter of Mark and Mary Ellen Stern, she lives along the river and loves the sport, but these are high accomplishments for anyone from Central Pennsylvania where the water ski season is shorter than in more southern states. In addition, there is only one competitive ski jump available for use anywhere in the state, according to her father.
“So she wins in the state competition, then she goes to regionals in another state and she still wins, in a sport where other competitors live on the ramp,” he said.
As with many outstanding athletes, Cleia started young. At the age of 2, she was riding on her dad’s knees at Treasure Lake.
Cleia has grown in the sport, particularly this year, going from water skiing for fun to learning new competitive skills.
Corey Vaughn, a professional water skier who is ranked 10th in the world, has a ski school in Virginia. He sought out Cleia at a tournament at Beaver Lake, N.C., saying he saw a lot of talent in her.
Cleia participates in ski schools as a reward for doing well academically and has improved under her new mentor.
“He taught me skill, not just brute force,” she said.
He also guided her toward better skis for her competitive events.
Cleia won her first tournament at age 11 in North Carolina.
“I was the only one in my age group division,” she remembered. “The lake there is a very nice lake right now, but back then there was a lot of algae in it. You had to shake the algae down the rope. It was all over me… But my dad said something that made me realize I was the only one in my age group, so if I competed, I would win. I did compete and I skied well in that tournament.”
She has won the Scott Worthington Tournament in the Williamsport area three times, a handicap tournament based on points. She competed in it as a G-2 Girl. Now that she has competed in nationals, however, she will be bumped up to G-3, which will change her ranking.
Other things are different this year as well, Cleia said.
“Coaches are telling me I can’t free ski because I will develop bad habits. But everyday, we used to go out on the water and just have fun,” she said
At nationals, she finished 12th in trick skiing and 17th in the jump, but Cleia herself said she could have done better in the slalom. Not making it to the winners’ podium doesn’t matter much, she said, but she’s a little disappointed in herself that she did not ski her best.
“If we were whiners, we could have gotten another chance because the sun was in a bad place, but we didn’t say anything,” her father said. “Still, everybody knew she was there. Here is this kid who’s going up and up in the rankings.”
In competitions all the way to states, water skiers have three cracks at an event. After states, it’s one and done, he said. “There is no other sport like that.”
Cleia’s parents are proud of her accomplishments.
Mark said of his youngest daughter, “She’s smart, she’s a hard worker, and she challenges me on everything. I want her to.”
Cleia has friends and fans of various ages. The family has regularly welcomed Rotary Exchange students over the years, so she has friends in other countries as well.
A home-school student, Cleia takes live classes online with fellow web students and with a different teacher for every subject. If she doesn’t understand something, she researches it on her own.
She said, “There are only three basic reasons kids are home-schooled in this day and age: they are excelling, they are failing, or they have issues like bullying… Four of us get 100 percents, a couple get 80 percents, and the majority are failing.”
When pressed, she will admit that she is one of the few who are consistently at the top of the class.
She plans to play tennis on the CMHS team as a freshman this school year.
She also likes to sing and to read. She enjoyed sharing her love of literature with the late Larry Lebin, a retired Lock Haven University professor.
“He always stressed performance,” she said. “He would say, ‘If you mess up, you are going to get another chance.'”