“Hit it!”

“Hit what?” you may ask.

For most people, these words probably arouse images of someone hitting an object—perhaps a baseball, tennis ball, punching bag, or even a nail. The words can also be used to describe other things. For example, according to Google, some people liken the phrase “hit it” to a random act of sex between two people who have just met. Still others use it to describe taking a hit of drugs.

I bet I have your attention now, don’t I?

For thirty years, however, the term “hit it” represented something entirely different for me. When I think of those two little words, I don’t envision an object, sex, or drugs; rather, I see a choice…a choice to try again, a choice to face an obstacle, to master a new skill, to take on a competitor, to choose perseverance, or a choice to overcome physical or emotional pain. I see two words that when spoken, enabled me to rise out of the waters of defeat to platforms of victory.

I was first introduced to the term in 1974, when I found myself floating in the Pamlico River in Bath, North Carolina. I had water skis on my feet and a rope in my hands, and I had just experienced being pulled up and down the shoreline of the shallow waters. Now it was time for me to make the decision to tell the boat driver to “hit it” and follow him out into the deep.

You would think that a four-year-old child would have some reservations about being pulled away from the safety of the shore and her family into a large, open space of water, but I didn’t. There was no fear of falling, disappointing onlookers, or failing in my endeavor. There wasn’t any doubt about my ability to have success. The only thing I remember about that day was my excitement about skimming across the top of the water.

To me, the choice was simple…I could either remain floating in the water, or I could give the boat driver the command to “hit it” and have some fun! So, with every bit of gusto I had in my little lungs, I gave the command, and off I went, out of the water and on to a thirty-year adventure that would take me all over the world and open unimaginable doors.

My parents first introduced me to the incredible world of water sports. Within a few years of my learning to water-ski, it became obvious that I was excelling in the sport rather rapidly. Our family soon found ourselves traveling across the United States, where I was able to set state, regional, national, and eventually world records.

Despite the challenges and occasional injuries, however, I loved mastering new skills, twisting and turning on top of the water. In 1983, at the age of thirteen, I received an exclusive invitation to showcase my trick-skiing skills at the prestigious US Masters Water Ski and Wakeboard Tournament held annually at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. It was there that I entered my first international competition, competing against the top adult athletes in the world.

So much of the experience is ever so fresh in my memory…my first Master’s jacket, hearing the National Anthem echo across the lake, standing on the dock looking into my mother’s reassuring eyes as she gave me last-minute instructions, and hearing the screams of thousands of spectators as they cheered me on into the trick course. I’ll also never forget hearing my father’s distinct southern voice as he loudly yelled, “You can do it, baby!” as the boat pulled away from the dock.

I loved every minute of it! Well, almost every minute—right up until I fell flat on my face in the middle of my first trick pass. The crowd’s “Oh!” in perfect unison as I hit the water still rings loudly in my mind.

I still remember being under the water in total shock. How could this have happened? What did I do wrong? Did I hit a wave? Who put a banana peel in the middle of the lake?

Eventually my little lungs told my confused mind it was time to surface, and when I did, I had a choice to make. Should I swim to shore and quit or grab hold of the rope, tell the boat driver to “hit it,” and give everything I had on my second run? I chose the latter. I chose perseverance.

It would be two years before I had the privilege of saying “hit it!” again at the US Masters. As I waited for my second invitation to compete, I continued to press on, holding tightly to hope. I knew that if I continued to work hard, the invitation would eventually come. And it did.