WINDHAM — Cool spray whipped Erin McNeil’s grinning face as she grasped the boom, steadying her water skis against the bumpy surface of Little Sebago Lake. It was her first time on water skis, but McNeil’s enthusiastic smile suggested a veteran’s confidence.

“This is fun,” she said.

McNeil, 13, of Biddeford, was one of 17 Maine students participating in “A Day to Remember,” a program sponsored by In His Wakes, a Christian Ministry that uses water sports to help at-risk youths overcome challenges in their lives.

Kristi Overton Johnson, a world record holder in water-skiing, founded In His Wakes in 2003 as a way to give youths a chance to find strength in God through water sports. The participants in Tuesday’s event ranged in age from 14 to 17.

“The program is totally faith-based,” said Nate Miller, the program’s director. “We use water sports to relate their lives to Christ. Use what they learn out here (about) overcoming their fears to find hope and purpose in their lives.”

Based in North Carolina, In His Wakes brought its program to Windham through the efforts of Nancy Goslin, a member who raised $100 for each teenager who participated. She said that was no easy task.

“As we grow, more donations will come, but economic circumstances made it very difficult to fundraise for (Tuesday’s) event,” Goslin said.

Miller, 47, said he and his crew will sponsor an event even if fundraising goes poorly, but given the rising cost of transportation, funding is increasingly important.

“We start in Florida and come all the way up the coast,” he said. “We probably travel over 20,000 miles a season.”

Miller piloted the 20-foot Nautique, a donated vessel and one of three boats that towed the teenagers around the lake. As he drove, he shouted encouragement to McNeil as she skied off the port side.

“Looking good, Erin!” Miller yelled. “Faster?”

“Sure!” she responded.

Miller turned back to the controls and depressed the throttle.

“We want them to leave here knowing that they can overcome any challenge they face,” he said.

Others who made the event happen included Kelli Rogers, a probation officer for the Maine Department of Corrections. Rogers wanted to help after hearing about In His Wakes through a friend.

She said most teenagers who participate in “A Day to Remember” are on probation or under state supervision, so they rarely have a chance to get away from their difficult circumstances.

“It’s wonderful,” Rogers said. “To be able to spend the day at a lake and just have fun is a good thing for these kids.”

Mackenzie Jewett of Saco particularly enjoyed her day at the lake, because it was her 16th birthday.

“It’s been a really fun birthday,” Jewett said. “I got up water-skiing and knee-boarded.” She plans to water-ski again when she goes camping later in the summer.

At lunchtime, the teenagers gathered on a small beach to eat and hear a short talk by Miller. He led them in prayer, giving thanks to God for the food, friends and a fun day. Religion is meant to inspire the participants, although the program doesn’t aim to proselytize.

Miller said he opens the door to Christianity, but the students decide for themselves if it’s something they will pursue.

“A Day to Remember” appeared to live up to its name, at least for Brodey Jones, 17, of Biddeford.

“Today was the most fun I’ve had in a million years,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Max Monks can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: [email protected]