UW-Whitewater professor performs in China in international water ski show competition

April 07, 2014

Rock Aqua Jays in ChinaIn September, members of the USA Show Ski Team stood in front of reporters in Jiaozhou, Shandong, China, after defeating that country's national team in competition.

Among the triumphant competitors on the podium stood Rowand Robinson, chair of the UW-Whitewater Special Education Department, and his three daughters, Kasten, 16, Kylie, 14, and Kenna, 13.

Robinson has been a water skier since he was five years old and now has more than four decades of experience. He joined the Janesville-based Rock Aqua Jays in 2001 and performed such feats as being the base of a five-person-high pyramid. His daughters initially were content watching from shore.

Eventually, they joined their father on the team.

"It's nice to take time away from the stress of everyday life and transfer my energy to an activity the entire family can get involved with," Robinson said. "The Rock Aqua Jays allow me to bond with my daughters in a environment where we can all have fun and let loose."

(The video below shows the Robinsons performing in a five-person-high pyramid. Rowand is part of the base. Kylie is at the top, wearing the video camera).

The Rock Aqua Jays are experienced international competitors. In 1999 the team became the first American water ski show team to perform and compete in China, and it has since returned to compete in the country multiple times.

In September, it was the Robinson family's turn to take on that challenge. They competed in the 2013 China - USA Show Ski Challenge as part of the USA Show Ski Team, which was largely comprised of members of the Rock Aqua Jays.

Robinson spent the 14-hour flight helping Kylie with her geometry homework and watching movies. With other members of the team, he finalized performance plans.

"This was the first time out of the country for my daughters and me," Robinson said. "It was difficult leaving Mom behind -- we video chatted with her every night."

The USA team competed in front of 3,000 spectators on the Linyi River in the Shandong Province in east China.

"China is big on competitive sports and wants to improve its ski team," Robinson said. "It's an Olympic-type atmosphere when we go over there, allowing us to be at our best when it really counts."

The USA team used a triple rig boat, which is specifically chosen to handle the weight of all of the performers. The team shipped the boat a month in advance so it would arrive on time. A committee of talented seamstresses logged many hours constructing the performer's costumes.

Robinson family"A lot of time and effort go into our performances," Robinson said. "It's really great to witness a collective effort to succeed and accomplish the goals in front of us."

When not overseas, the Rock Aqua Jays team performs at Traxler Park on the Rock River in Janesville. It also faces off against show ski teams across the nation and has a long record of success, bagging 18 national titles.

Show skiing has produced other rewards for Robinson. He said it has made him a more effective educator.

Robinson has been with UW-Whitewater since 2006, becoming an associate professor in July 2009. He became the chair of the Special Education Department in May 2012. Within that time, Robinson has been awarded the 2012 Starin Hall Academic Impact Award, along with being nominated for the Audrey McClellan Endowed Teacher of Distinction Award in 2010.

He has been published in scholarly journals 11 times, including the "Journal of Educational Psychology." Robinson has also given presentations across the nation, from Arizona to North Carolina, about the different approaches in educating special-needs students.

"My professional goal of always becoming a better educator has only benefitted from my time with the Rock Aqua Jays," Robinson said. "With more experiences to share brings more in-class examples and ideas to help students retain information, increasing the educational value of any course."

-- Written by Jonathan Fera; photo and video courtesy Rock Aqua Jays


Jeff Angileri

Sara Kuhl