STERLING - Bruce Kunde doesn’t shy away from rough waters.
The 85-year-old Sterling resident has been water skiing competitively for more than 50 years, continuing to break records, and he recently hit the milestone of being inducted into the American Water Ski Association Midwest Hall of Fame, which consists of 13 states.
“It’s really quite an honor,” he said. “I’m a happy camper.”
He started tournament skiing in 1964 at the Clinton Riverboat Days and competed in his first Illinois State Tournament in 1969 in Decatur where he placed first in Men’s Jump and First Overall.
After many years and tournaments, at age 46, he qualified for his first National Tournament in 1982 in DuQuoin, Illinois. His division had 15 skiers, and he placed second with a jump of 115 feet.
After getting a taste of tournament skiing, he wouldn’t let anything keep him from continuing on skiing three events – slalom, trick and jump. He has records in all three events and is most remembered for his jumping.
Although Kunde had triple bypass surgery in 2016, he still set a new National Jump Record in his division in 2017.
Kunde said one of the best things about competitive water skiing is the extended family and relationships he’s built across the years.
“Most everybody has positive attitudes, and you meet people from all around the world,” he said.
He’ll meet people and their children and before you know it, their kids have kids. Kunde enjoys sharing his knowledge with youngsters and encouraging them.
“It’s great to see the gleam in their eye; they listen to everything you say,” he said.
Kunde finished taking all three national records in the 80-to-84 age range, and now he’s in a new bracket with new records to break.
He keeps himself healthy and will look to keep breaking records, but his family worries that he might get hurt.
“Nobody is doing what I’m doing at my age as far as water skiing,” he said. “My family wish I wouldn’t do it, but they cheer me on.”
His fellow skiers have dubbed him “The Living Legend,” and his tenure includes 29 national championships, seven national records, 10 national championship records and 40 regional records across four categories, to say nothing of his numerous state championships and records.
Kunde also was recognized in Faces in the Crowd in Sports Illustrated in 2012. At age 80, he set a new State Tournament record by jumping 100 feet, set a new Regional Tournament record with a jump of 101 feet and set a new National Tournament record with an 85-foot jump.
For Kunde, it’s all about positivity and being happy with life.
“I enjoy positive people and positive things. I’m always smiling.”
Here’s a listing of some of Kunde’s many achievements:
American Water Ski Association National Championship History
2002 Lago Santa Fe, Texas – age 66/Men 7 New National Jump Record at National Tournament - 96 feet and first overall
2006 Arvin, California – age 70/Men 7 New National Record at National Tournament 112 feet
2007 Maize, Kansas – age 71/Men 8 New National Record 92 feet
Arvin, California – age 71/Men 8 New National Record at National Tournament 94 feet
2009 Okeeheelee, Florida – age 73/Men 8 Slalom Second, Trick First, New National Tournament, Record 85 feet and first overall
2014 San Marcos, Texas – age 78/Men 9 New National Record at National Tournament 99 feet
2017 San Marcos, Texas – age 81/Men 10 Second Slalom, First Trick New National Tournament Record 85 feet
2020 Zachary, Louisiana – age 84/Men 10 First Slalom, First Trick New National Tournament Record 89 feet, and first overall