Riding life’s wave: Man with rare disease waterskis on his birthday

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Jacob Brewer got his wish on Saturday: Despite his battle with a rare, terminal illness that confines him to a wheelchair, he spent his 21st birthday skiing on Guist Creek Lake.

By Lisa King

Jacob Brewer was all wet on Saturday, but that was fine with him.


His wish to spend his 21st birthday water skiing at Guist Creek Lake came off without a hitch, to the delight of his family, who accompanied him from Columbus, Ohio, where Jacob Brewer lives, and Metro Louisville on his special day.

That day was even more special for Brewer than it is for most people.

He was diagnosed before the age of 3 with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a terminal illness with a life expectancy in the mid-20s range. The disease is characterized by degeneration in muscles and causes difficulty in walking and breathing.

The close-knit feeling among the large number of family members, who gathered at the lake to help make Brewer’s birthday as memorable as it could be, was evident in the air as they cheered him from the shore.

Seated in his wheelchair in a pontoon boat, with his father, Joe Brewer, at his side, Jacob Brewer waited as a team from a Florida-based nonprofit club, U Can Ski 2, made sure his specially made chair for disabled skiers was ready to go.

Though he smiled at his father from time to time, his eyes were somber as he watched the team prepare for the event.

“I took him water skiing when he was a year old, and again when he was six, and now, it’s hard to believe this is finally coming together,” said Brewer’s uncle, John Crush, who stood on the shore waiting for the moment when the team would signal that all was in readiness.

As it turned out, Brewer got to go for a spin around the lake twice in his chair, skiing as a trio, accompanied by a two-person team that skied on each side of him.

On his first trip, he was accompanied by his uncles, John and Andy Crush and the second time, by his father and brother, Joseph.

When his father and brother released the towing ropes, ending the ride in front of where his family was gathered, Brewer’s ear-to-ear grin was visible to everyone.

“I was so nervous, but it’s been really great, just awesome,” said his mother, Debbie Brewer.

“Everything has worked out just the way it should, and everyone has been so kind to us, letting us in down here [at the dam], and the game wardens even asking the fisherman to shut off their motors until we do this,” she said. “Jacob is so very, very happy, and it just could not have turned out better.”

Jacob Brewer’s grandmother, Lillian Mickey, 86, who owns a home on the lake, even got into the spirit of things, saying she was also going to ski, too, for the first time in 30 years.

Brewer is a student at Wright State University, where he plans to graduate next year with a degree in psychology.