Taken from http://www.ryanriehl.com
Ryan Riehl—Competitive Blind Waterskier
Laross Calnek and David Wassill were both glad Ryan Riehl decided to try out for the Saskatoon Adapative Water Ski Program, a part of the Saskatoon Water Ski Club they manage. Almost immediately, he began to win championship after championship, becoming a household name in the sport of waterskiing. His first win was in 2007, at the Canadian Adapted Championships, where he placed first in both slalom and tricks. 30 championships later, Riehl was named the Adaptive Athlete of the Year by Water Ski and Wakeboard Canada in both 2010 and 2012. Winning championships has allowed Riehl to travel around the world, including places like France and Italy. Riehl is unstoppable, and is always striving to improve his skill. He did so in 2013 with a new Canadian jump record of 139 metres and a new trick record of 550 points.
Riehl is blind. He attributes his success and drive to his parents, who have always encouraged him to try new things, and let him know that he can do almost anything anyone else can, just in a slightly different way. Prior to tryouts, Riehl had only downhill skied, never waterskied. But being a bit of a daredevil by nature, it was right up his alley. Riehl began losing his sight when he was ten years old, as a result of tumors on his optic nerves. He revealed that since he has not been blind since birth, he has an advantage, because he can visualize the instructions that are given to him for waterskiing. Riehl also isn’t completely blind; he is able to see shapes, shadows, colour, and light. The water skier lives with Eddie, his black lab seeing-eye dog. Eddie helps his waterskiing master navigate on land, and Wassill helps him navigate on skis.
When Riehl isn’t training or competing, you’ll find him in the kitchen at East Side Mario’s washing dishes, a position he has held for eight years. As one might think, finding employment when you are visually impaired (or have any disability, for that matter) is a difficult task. And it was hard for Riehl, until he learned East Side Mario’s was desperate for a dishwasher. He kept phoning until they finally asked him to come in. They did not yet know about his visual impairment. No interview required, Riehl began working right away, and did so every day for the next week. After each shift he would discuss with management what did or didn’t slow him down. From the get-go, management was immensely impressed with Riehl. To date, he is their only daytime dishwasher. As part of the reality TV show Undercover Boss Canada, East Side Mario’s CEO John Rothschild was scheduled to make an appearance at the restaurant’s Saskatoon location, under the alias Adam Johnson. Riehl was asked to work with Rothschild’s alias, and teach him all the tasks he had as a dishwasher.
Rothschild was instantly impressed with Riehl’s ability, accomplishments, and dedication to East Side Mario’s. He watched him do a top notch job working solo as daytime dishwasher even without proper lighting to help him see better. (The lighting issue was resolved after Rothschild’s visit, and a larger light was installed to better assist Riehl.) Even when it was first announced that TV cameras would be coming on a Monday, the one day Riehl does not work at the restaurant (as few dishes are accumulated and there is no real need for a dishwasher), Riehl suggested they leave Sunday’s dishes for him so he would have a kitchen full of dishes to clean.
Eventually, when Riehl was summoned to headquarters, he discovered who Adam Johnson really was. He was again commended on his character, attitude, and achievements. As a thank you for all of his hard work, Rothschild presented Riehl with $15,000 to pay for his trip to Milan, Italy in August 2013 for the World Disabled Waterski Championships, his training in Florida, and all the pertinent expenses for those travels. Rothschild also presented Riehl with $5,000 out of his own pocket. “I was blown away by John’s generosity. I just couldn’t believe it,” Riehl said. “It was an amazing experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I feel very fortunate I had the opportunity to be a part of it all.”
Making the decision to profile Riehl in an episode of Undercover Boss Canada will hopefully help others with disabilities across the country, and educate employers, who may now be more willing to give people with different abilities a chance to work in their companies. What does the immediate future hold for Riehl? “I plan on going to the US Nationals in August,” he says. They will be held at Whitestone Lake Estates in Talking Rock, Georgia, from August 29 to 31, 2014.