LAKE NORMAN, N.C. -- Some special athletes from the area are about to compete on the world stage.
NBC Charlotte has been following them for months, the disabled water skiers about to represent the U.S.
Robbie Parks is really good with his hands.
He has to be. He builds and sells custom wheelchairs for a living. It's a need he understands all too well.
“I was 16, just started my junior year in high school. I played football, was very athletic. I grew up on the lake waterskiing. Unfortunately I took the path of hanging out with the party crowd,” he says.
He blames himself. He was drunk when he wrecked his car and broke his neck. He was paralyzed and doctors gave him just ten years to live.
“During that ten years, I lived pretty much every day as if I was going to die the next day. I got back into drugs. I got back into alcohol. It took another drug overdose to make me decide that I want to live.”
Life now is all about the water.
An avid water skier before his accident, Parks worked hard to get this good again.
He's so good, he's both a competitor and instructor.
Parks coaches 14-year-old Eli Hager, a double amputee since he was 9 months old, who’s known for his tricks on the water.
The teen says, “l’ll be proud when I can get my back flip down!”
He's hoping to nail it in time for the world championships where he and Parks will represent the U.S. at the disabled water ski championships.
Parks’ best friend and coworker, Megan McCauley, is waiting for her turn in the water.
“The feeling of you're in the moment, you’re not thinking about what happened five minutes ago, five hours ago, five days ago,” she says.
Five years ago, a four-wheeling accident left Megan paralyzed, but she adapted a lot faster than Robbie.
“My family was more upset than I was. I was just, “Tell me what I have to do, and I'll do it. Just move on from it, I don't like to dwell on anything.”
Instead, she focuses on the water and the freedom that comes with it.
They all do.
Parks said, “I’m equal again. It takes away the chair. It takes away the disability and puts me back on even playing field with my able-bodied peers.”
A playing field doctors years ago couldn't imagine.
“They were going to stick me in a nursing home and fortunately I would not allow that. I was supposed to be stuck away and just die, die quietly. Fortunately I didn’t and 30 years later, here I am.”
Walking, on water.
The three will head to Milan, Italy to compete in the World Disabled Water Ski Championship in two weeks.