KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Confidently gliding through the wake behind a speedboat on a single ski, you'd never know Rachel Evangelista has only been water skiing for a year. The Western Michigan University nursing student found her new passion by chance after challenging herself to join a club on campus.
"I had a hard time making friends freshman year, and I remember thinking, 'I really have to get out there and try to meet people,'" says Evangelista, who grew up in South Lyon, Michigan. "I went online and started looking at Western's clubs, and at the bottom I saw water skiing. I love hanging out on a boat or being outside in the sunshine, so I thought, 'I'm going to try it.'"
With no experience at all, Evangelista nervously reached out to the Waterski and Wakeboard Club at WMU last summer. They had no problem helping her get her feet wet.
"It's the most welcoming community I've ever been a part of," she says, happy to finally have found her "people" on campus.
"I was all in after that first time out on the boat. I remember getting up on two skis for the first time and nothing could beat that feeling. After that, I wanted to do it all. I recently got up on a trick ski for my first time, and then at some tournaments, I attempted the jump. I have not landed it yet, but it's still fun to try your hardest and have everyone cheer you on."
Having a community to lean on also helped Evangelista cope with feelings of isolation and stress during the pandemic.
"Mental health is a big thing right now," she says. "Aside from focusing on academics, I feel like it's super important to have friends to go to or have something to turn to when you're having a bad day or just need a mental health day or break. Spending time out on the water, there's no better fresh air break for your mental health. Having this group during the pandemic has made all the difference."
While academics are a focus of college, the experience outside the classroom is just as important. In fact, research shows students who are engaged in a club or organization perform better academically and graduate at higher rates than their peers who are not.
“Getting involved is simply one of the best ways to make the most out of your collegiate experience. It is a great way to grow, learn, make connections and positively help your community,” says Chris Sligh, director of student engagement.
The Waterski and Wakeboard Club at WMU practices on Pickerel Lake in Kalamazoo County and travels to tournaments across the country in summer and early fall. There are both team and individual competitions.
Students can connect with the team or find something else that sparks their interest in the ExperienceWMU portal. There are more than 300 active clubs and organizations on campus.
"Even if water skiing isn't your thing, just try something," Evangelista says. "I feel like it changed my whole experience at Western."
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.