Richland girl, 5, joins granddad on water skis (w/ gallery)

RICHLAND -- Dan Dilg trailered his Sea Ray boat all the way from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Richland early this summer so he could maintain the exercise he took up after he lost his leg.

The tanned 55-year-old has seven daughters and 28 grandchildren. Some 20 years ago, he got into an argument in Texas over one of his kids and the other guy shot him in the leg, he said. After that, he took up waterskiing to stay fit.

Since coming to the Tri-Cities for an extended visit in April, Dilg has passed on his love of the sport to two of his grandchildren: Elizabeth Reed, 12, and her 5-year-old sister, Breanna Wilcox.

They go out most days, even on a crisp autumn afternoon.

On Wednesday, Dilg and the two girls, joined by their mother, Latisha Wilcox, went in the water at the Snyder Street boat launch in Richland. The girls eagerly jumped in the boat before it was backed down the ramp. They were ready to go.

"I got them out there this summer -- now they don't quit," Dilg said with a laugh.

The kids will stay out on skis for hours, rain or shine, he said. Wednesday was sunny, but the November air carried a chill.

Breanna, dressed in a tiny wetsuit, pink life jacket and thick socks because water-ski boots don't come in her size, barely acknowledged a question about the late season.

Finally she admitted, "When we go home I get hot chocolate, 'cause sometimes it's cold."

When the two girls started water sports early this summer, Breanna was 4 and they used kneeboards.

"Those are in the closet now," Dilg said, shaking his head in amusement.

Both girls quickly progressed to water skis. Breanna's are linked together in front and back for added stability. The lead coming from the boat attaches to the crossbar between the skis because she doesn't yet have the strength to hold on, Dilg explained.

She already skis one-handed, completes turns with ease and feels ready to move on to the next level.

"Guess what?" Breanna blurted out. "I want to get a wakeboard and do tricks."

She starts a lot of her sentences with "Guess what?" when she's talking about her new pastime.

As in: "Guess what? I ran over grandpa's head."

That happened when the two were skiing side by side recently. Breanna crossed Dilg's skis and sent him tumbling into the Columbia. He laughs about the incident with the pride of a man passing on his life's passion to his grandchildren.

Breanna has shown no fear, her family says. But her twin brother, Adam, won't have anything to do with the sport, Dilg said. And Breanna's friends think she's crazy, her older sister said with pride.

The little one just likes being on the water, especially in the rough stuff. "It's fun. I go out there every day," said Breanna, who attends Head Start classes at Jefferson Elementary in Richland.

Then three generations of water-skiers pulled away from the dock. Minutes later, on the other side of the river, the boat stopped, then revved up.

Behind it, barely visible in the white spray, was a tiny silhouette dancing in the boat's wake.