The healing lift of water

Minnkota’s Nelson Lake recently hosted the annual Escape to the Lake event, an opportunity for those with health challenges to try water skiing.


Kaylee Cusack


June 24, 2024

With some help from her new friends from the Aberdeen Aqua Addicts, 6-year-old Kassidy Klaudt emerged from the warm water of Nelson Lake to the cheers of the small crowd waiting for her.

“I did it!” she yelled, carefully making her way to her grandparents for a sopping-wet-life-jacket hug. She had just done something doctors assumed she would never be able to do with her chromosomal deficiency. She had water skied.

Kassidy was one of more than 50 participants of June’s Escape to the Lake, an event hosted for the past 28 years by the North Dakota Association for the Disabled (NDAD). Assisted by the Aberdeen Aqua Addicts water ski team, the nonprofit Sporting Chance and Minnkota Power Cooperative, the program offered an adaptive water skiing experience for those with disabilities, as well as wheelchair-accessible pontoon rides around Nelson Lake in Center, N.D.

Kassidy Klaudt gets some help from her grandmother after her adaptive water skiing experience at Nelson Lake. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

“She loves the water, because her first experiences of being free and mobile have always been in the water,” said Kassidy’s grandfather, Scott Klaudt. He explained that Kassidy is only one of nine people in the world who have been diagnosed with her specific chromosomal deficiency, which limits her body’s dexterity.

“They didn’t think she would ever walk, talk, learn, anything,” grandmother Kelly Klaudt added. But Kassidy’s spirit for adventure was too strong – she began walking on her own last year and now enjoys several adapted sports and activities. “She fills us with joy. That’s for sure.”

As NDAD Marketing Director DeAnn Burckhard spoke to Escape to the Lake volunteers and participants, she couldn’t help but soak in some of that residual joy.

A participant waves to the crowd as he returns from his ski around the lake. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

“Everyone is all smiles. It makes such a difference for people to be able to come out and participate in something that they may not otherwise be able to do,” she said. “NDAD wants the participants to know that there are no health challenges that have to slow anybody down. We have resources around the state and we make relationships with different organizations to make sure that everybody can live as fulfilled a life as possible."

Participants get prepared for their moment on water skis. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

Community of support

More than 70 volunteers gathered to help the event run safely and smoothly, including Sporting Chance member Barry Berger. Sporting Chance is a nonprofit based in Bismarck, N.D., whose mission is to provide opportunities for people with mental and physical disabilities to enjoy the outdoors through hunting, fishing and recreational activities. More than 20 years ago, Berger was working at Minnkota’s Milton R. Young Station as a coal handler when he gained interest in the annual event taking place in Minnkota’s man-made Nelson Lake.

“I just sat and watched the participants and fell in love with their smiles,” Berger said of his first Escape to the Lake, which pushed him to join Sporting Chance. “Now my wife and I and my three boys – my youngest especially – have all been involved.”

Sporting Chance volunteer Barry Berger (right) assists the Aberdeen Aqua Addicts with the participant lineup. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

Minnkota has happily sponsored the use of Nelson Lake for Escape to the Lake from the start. Since the water of the lake is used to cool the power plant – through an environmentally safe and monitored process – it always remains warmer than other lakes in North Dakota. This makes for a pleasant experience for water skiers who may have temperature sensitivities.

With Berger’s assistance, Minnkota took another step by facilitating the construction of a permanent metal shelter at the site of the annual event, which can be used by anyone enjoying Nelson Lake recreationally. The cooperative also helped acquire adaptive skis and seats for participants and ensures the event space is mowed and the dock is launched before show time.

Elijah Perdue has cerebral palsy and has participated in Escape to the Lake for four years. “He waits for it every year, all year long,” his mother Sarah said. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

Nelson Lake always felt like home to Bismarck’s Dayton Farley, who would spend time water skiing there with his dad when he was young. When a river diving accident shattered his spine and stole his ability to walk at 15 years old, he knew water sports would be difficult. But for the past 22 years, he’s returned to Nelson Lake every summer to water ski with a now-extended family of Escape to the Lake participants.

“This helped me transition back to having recreational fun again,” he said. “I feel like I did when I was 15. When I was 10, when I was 12, I came out here and skied myself, and to have Minnkota have us come out here and to have that privilege to do it – I feel like I get a second chance at life. It’s a good feeling to ski.”

Sporting Chance acquired a wheelchair-accessible pontoon for Escape to the Lake festivities. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

Investment in Escape to the Lake is one of many ways Minnkota demonstrates commitment to community, a cornerstone principle of the cooperative’s mission of enhancing quality of life in the region. From first-time skiers like Kassidy to veteran participants like Dayton, the event has energized thousands over 28 years. It’s a legacy Minnkota is proud to continue to support.

“We’re so grateful for the relationship that we have with Minnkota, to be able to come out here. The water is so warm, it’s beautiful,” NDAD’s Burckhard said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

MAIN IMAGE: Kassidy Klaudt gets her turn to ride the waves of Nelson Lake with the Aberdeen Aqua Addicts. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)


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