At 85, this Bristol water skier shows no signs of slowing down
BRISTOL — At age 85, Shirley Ziebarth doesn't like to bother her neighbors with her daily needs.
But two to three times a week she does call upon them because somebody needs to drive the boat and spot for her as she water skis.
On the days she can't get the neighbors to drive her, she is relegated instead to windsurfing.
"It's the only thing I can do on the lake without any help," she said. "Most people don't like windsurfing on these choppy mountain lakes, but I love it. It beats sitting in a sailboat."
Ziebarth moved to Newfound Lake in 1994 with her late husband, Alvin, who was a college hockey star. Her father, Kenneth McRae, was a world-class athlete who once set a track record in his home country of Scotland, throwing the ball and chain.
She has always been athletic. Born on a farm in Howic, Quebec, she was used to walking and skiing long distances in all kinds of weather.
Since the birth of her daughter, Carol Benziger, she has been active in water and snow sports. She started water skiing about 50 years ago using wooden skis on Lake Erie. When she and her husband chose Newfound for their home, the lake became her playground.
"I always like to be doing something, particularly in the water," she said. "And this is a very clean lake."
She's a legend in snow, too. At Waterville Valley Resort, she's a member of a ski team, which needs her because she can still downhill ski — she is bored by cross-country skiing — at a competitive level.
"Nobody else has anyone skiing in my age group, so by finishing a race I can get my team points," she said. "They won't let me quit."
Ziebarth said she doesn't often think about her age. She's too busy.
"They say 80 is the new 60," she said with a chuckle. "I don't think about it much. All I can say is I'm blessed."
Has she lost a step? "I'm sure I'm slowing down, I must be," she said.
Her daughter disagrees. "I think she's water skiing better this year than I've ever seen her," Carol Benziger said.
Her son-in-law, Jerry Benziger, said she doesn't act her age at all.
"She and her friends are hiking mountains, and she's always walking or playing tennis or biking up a steep hill or doing something in the water," he said. "She knows the alternative (to being active) is not good, and she's staying ahead of the curve."
Now that the Benzigers have come to visit for the next few weeks, she'll be water skiing most every day, she said.
"Will I be water skiing when I'm 90? I don't know," Ziebarth said.
"Yep, she will be," Jerry Benzinger said. "She'll probably outlast all of us."
"She's been going hard for 50 years now every day, I don't see her slowing down," her daughter said.