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Rural Missouri Magazine

Isaiah's Run
The Voss family shares a skier's paradise through camps and tournaments

by Bob McEowen

Austin Voss practices his slalom techniques on Isaiah’s Run, a 30-acre private ski lake near Owensville. Austin and his sister Julie conduct weeklong water ski instruction camps each summer on the lake owned by their parents, Joe and Rhoda Voss.

Standing on the deck of a two-story cabin overlooking their private 30-acre lake, Joe and Rhoda Voss can’t help but feel proud. The satisfaction comes not only from the beautiful property they’ve developed south of Owensville, but from watching their children succeed.

From their vantage point, the roar of a powerful inboard motor is but a steady purr as their son, Austin, guides a sleek ski boat through a series of buoys. Their daughter, Julie, sits in the boat, her gaze fixed on a young skier cutting through a wake.

It’s the first day of water skiing camp and already the children under Julie and Austin’s care are making progress. As the boat slows and the skier’s legs slip below the water’s surface, Julie stands and shouts encouragement from the back of the boat.

“It’s really gratifying as a parent to sit back and watch your kids develop a business like this,” Rhoda says. For the past three years, Julie and Austin have shared the knowledge and experience they’ve gained as competitive water skiers with children and college students alike at a series of camps held at Isaiah’s Run, the Voss family lake.

Aimed at children age 8 through 18, the camps combine water ski instruction with traditional summer camp activities including canoe races, sand volleyball and ghost stories around the campfire.

“It’s kind of a blend of a regular summer camp and a water sports instruction camp,” says Julie, who also handles all the administrative logistics for the camp. “Several of the kids here this week are interested in competitive skiing, but we also have a lot of kids that come who aren’t competitive. A lot of them haven’t even skied before.”

Julie offers encouragement and advice to Nellie Roberts, a 9-year-old competitive skier from Dow, Ill. Nellie has attended camp at Isaiah’s Run each of the three summers it’s operated.

It’s a sure bet they’ll all be gliding across the water in some fashion soon after arriving, though. Julie, 26, and her brother Austin, 20, offer instruction in traditional water skiing, as well as kneeboarding and wakeboarding. Campers choose what skills they want to develop based on their confidence level, ability and interests.

“It’s really whatever they want to work on, at whatever level they’re at,” says Julie. “Each one is a private lesson, so it’s pretty easy to switch gears.”

As she lists the goals of each of the five students attending a recent camp, Julie provides an overview of the variety of instruction offered at Isaiah’s Run.

“Michael just learned to ski on two today,” she says. “He’s had three sessions on the water. He’s doing great. He’s already up and crossing the wakes, no problem.

“Dan is out there on jump skis for the first time. We’ll take him over the ramp this week.

“Sammy and Nellie, they already know how to run the slalom course,” Julie says in praise of two best friends, ages 9 and 10, who have come to the camp each summer for three years straight. “They’re working on going faster.”

No matter what the campers’ goals, they’re sure to get expert advice from Julie and Austin. The Voss siblings have both competed on the national level with their respective college water ski teams. Julie skied for the Kansas State University ski club and continues to compete on the state and regional level in amateur tournaments. Austin currently competes with the Missouri State University Water Ski Team.

Not only are the camp’s leaders devoted to water skiing, the facility that Joe and Rhoda built on their Gasconade County property was specifically designed with skiing in mind.

Michael Teasdale, 10, watches his skis with apprehension after skiing for the first time in his life earlier in the morning of the first day of camp.

Joe grew up boating and waterskiing, and he passed his love of watersports on to his family — which also includes eldest daughter Amy, her husband Dale Aubuchon and grandchildren Adriene and Derek. What had been a pleasant recreational activity became something much more, though, when a friend invited the Voss children to attend a ski tournament. Julie, a teenager at the time, was the first to jump into the waters of competitive skiing. Austin followed a few years later.

In 2000, Joe sold his Owensville lumberyard and roof truss company, retired and built his dream lake on property below his and Rhoda’s residence. It was Julie who christened the lake. Isaiah’s Run is a reference to a Bible verse, Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through these waters, I will be with you . . . ”

The Crawford Electric Cooperative members designed the lake specifically as a site to train competition skiers and host tournaments. In 2007, a fellow collegiate skier encouraged Julie to host a ski camp at Isaiah’s Run, and she and Austin approached Joe with the idea.

“I told them, ‘You’re going to take on the most precious thing of anybody’s family, their children. You’re going to have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders,’” Joe says. “They’ve done a very awesome job. I’m very, very proud of them.”

Julie brought more than skill on skis to the endeavor. A 2005 graduate of Kansas State University, Julie also received advanced business training alongside her father as Joe launched a new company that sells floor joist materials nationwide.

“She’s got a lot of her dad’s spirit,” Rhoda says. “She went to college and got a degree in marketing and business, but she’s definitely got that knack.”

Julie formed a corporation to operate the summer camp and recruited friends from the collegiate ski circuit to help. She markets the camps, handles the registration details, plans the menus and even cooks many of the meals. After racking up hours on her family’s boat the first year, she now begins each season with a new boat titled in her name.

Indeed, other than the use of the family lake and cabin, the summer ski camps have succeeded almost entirely due to Julie and Austin’s efforts. “Basically, we provide a place, which she pays rent for, and a lot of support in the background. But she and Austin do the work, and they’re the ones that are here 24/7 with the kids,” Rhoda says.
Julie and Austin schedule 10 camps each summer, including one aimed at collegiate skiers. The five-day-long camps cost $625 per person and include lodging, meals and all necessary equipment.

Campers joust for bragging rights on small docks. When not in ski lessons, the children enjoy traditional summer camp activities.

Every student receives an hour of on-the-water instruction each day, with lessons divided into four 15-minute sets. The training schedule requires a steady pace. As one student is on the water, the next prepares their equipment and waits on the dock, ready to swap places.

Depending on how many campers attend each week, three to six counselors rotate through duties driving the boat, coaching students, supervising campers at play or preparing meals. While Julie’s cadre of college athlete instructors do not push campers beyond their own interests, it’s not unusual for the coaches’ love of skiing — especially competitive skiing — to rub off.

“We don’t push them into competition,” Austin says, “but if they enjoy it enough and they’re at a level to do it, we’ll say, ‘Why don’t you come out and ski in the tournament.’”

When they’re not in a skiing lesson, campers spend their time in other activities — usually watersports related — under the watchful eye of a camp counselor. From an old-fashioned rope swing to a water trampoline to small floating platforms where campers joust gladiator-style for last-man-standing bragging rights, there’s always something to do at Isaiah’s Run.

“We really encourage them to have a lot of fun,” says Julie. “It’s really hard not to have fun on the water. I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone who’s come to camp and not had a good time.”

While the children who attend camp at Isaiah’s Run enjoy their week on the water, Julie and Austin likewise are able to spend their entire summer if not on skis, at least near them.

“It’s a really good opportunity for me to stay at home and still do what I love to do,” says Austin, a college sophomore.

His older sister agrees. “It’s a way for us to do what we enjoy doing all the time. We can be on the water all day,” Julie says. “But it’s also a business.”

Isaiah’s Run, a 30-acre lake south of Owensville is primarily a private retreat, but it also hosts a summer ski camp, water skiing tournaments and other special events. The facility includes an official, surveyed slalom course and a ski jump ramp.

After three years of caring for children and organizing a full summer camp schedule, Julie says she may be ready for a different challenge next year — perhaps a stint in the Peace Corps. Regardless of her decision, Austin says he is ready to step into the void and take over operation of the camp.

Austin’s eagerness to continue the camp stems not just from the benefits of a summer job that allows him to ski, but also a family desire to allow others to enjoy the lake that produced two nationally ranked skiers.

“The way we feel about it is that we’ve been really blessed to have such a place and we enjoy sharing it,” Rhoda says. As if on cue, Joe echoes her sentiment. “Rhoda and I built this place to share, and we enjoy sharing,” he says.

The facility has been the site of numerous events, including church camps and ski tournaments. The Missouri Waterski Federation’s state championships have been held there twice, most recently in July. The state finals for the INT League, another watersports organization, were also held there this summer.

Isaiah’s Run also recently hosted a water ski-themed ministry event and a special fun day for children with cancer. This spirit of generosity and the love of water skiing certainly seem to run in the Voss family.

“Our family has always skied together, and I’ve just met so many good people in water skiing,” Austin says, practically mimicking comments his mother made out of earshot minutes earlier. “I enjoy getting other people involved in it. I think it’s a really enjoyable sport.”

The Voss family expects to host ski camps again next year. For more information, call 573-437-4848 or log onto www.isaiahsrun.com.

 

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