As of early September, 20-year-old Caroline Hensley of Hixson will have participated in 10 international water ski competitions, some of them as the No. 1-ranked female in her age group.
She is No. 1 overall now, in fact, in the under-21 world rankings, and in eight weeks she will be in France for her third u-21 world tournament. She was the only U.S. female water skier in the 2009 World Games in Thailand.
Her biggest event ever, however, is next week in Dubna, Russia — her first World Water Ski Championships with no age ceiling.
Hensley qualified as an individual and then made the USA Elite team with three other women and two men for the tournament that starts Monday on the Volga River about a two-hour drive north of Moscow. And the United States is one of the favorites, having finished second to Canada in the last Worlds in 2009 in Calgary.
The 5-foot-5 1/2 Baylor graduate is about to begin her junior year at Alabama as a chemical engineering major, and she has worked an internship this summer at TVA in Chattanooga — instead of practicing skiing in Florida as she’s done the last seven or eight summers. But she said before departure Friday that in a way she feels she’s “just starting” her international career.
“Academics and my career are the priorities, but this is my first time on this team and I hope I can continue. I haven’t thought about quitting,” Hensley said. “I want to keep getting better.”
It helps that she is on a water ski scholarship at Alabama, where Haley Runion of McDonald, Tenn., is a teammate.
Hensley has been practicing in the evenings and weekends at private No Wake Lake in Fort Oglethorpe, and she worked some last weekend on the Chattanooga Ski Club’s slalom course on Lake Chickamauga to help prepare her for the Volga.
In the all-ages world rankings she is No. 7 overall, combining success in the slalom, tricks and jump events. Her longtime training partner and good friend Regina Jaquess of Atlanta is No. 1 both overall and in slalom. Other USA teammates are friends as well.
“It’s funny. We want each other to do well, especially for the team, but we’re also competing against each other,” Hensley said. “I think it will be a very close tournament. The U.S. has won many times before, but Canada is very good and France and Belarus are good too. Those are the countries to beat.
“I was grateful to be able to go as an individual, but to be able to represent my country is one of the greatest honors I could have.”
Hensley began skiing at the age of 8 and by 13 was in her first Junior Worlds competition in Florida. Two years later she competed in foreign water for the first time; that was in France.
“She’s worked hard at it and stuck with it,” said her father, David Hensley, who got her started in the sport. “She had the benefit of professional coaching pretty early on, and based on their comments and her enthusiasm about it, we decided to see where it goes.”
The Hensleys had no idea then that would mean France, Chile, Thailand and Russia, among other destinations.
“I think I’ve been to four continents with her skiing,” said David, who with his wife will begin their Russia trip in St. Petersburg. “Water skiing is a family sport, and she, her mom and I literally have made friends around the world. We’ll see some of those next week.”