Video: The Bobcat’s 1997 waterskiing trek across Lake Andrews and into college lore

It was 17 years ago today that then-senior Stu Abelson ’97 donned the Bobcat costume and waterskied across Lake Andrews.

Looking back, Abelson says that “my strongest memory is that it was such a team effort.”

The feat, occuring on the Friday of that year’s Senior Week, wasn’t a renegade stunt under the cover of darkness but a well-planned campus event by Abelson and members of the waterskiing club.

In fact, Abelson sought and got full buy-in from various campus offices, including the 1997 equivalents of Facilities Services, Security and Campus Safety and Bates Communications. “And the President’s Office, including [then-President] Don Harward,” Abelson says. “It was Don who sent out the campus-wide email announcing it.”

Hundreds flocked to the shores of Lake Andrews to watch. (The full backstory is explained in this “This Month in Bates History” installment, including the semi-heroics of the SUV driver, Caleb Goodrich ’99.)

Video coverage of the 1997 event by the local ABC affiliate, WMTW:

In one sense, it was a 15-second stunt. In another, Abelson believes, it tells something about the Bates community.

To this day, Abelson remains impressed that no one put roadblocks in front of what must’ve seemed like a really idiotic complex idea. On the contrary, there was full support. “Bates people like to figure out how to get something done, pull together to make it happen and not find excuses why things can’t happen.”

The waterskiing Bates Bobcat (Stu Abelson '97) ends his trek across Lake Andrews on May 23, 1997. (Jose Leiva)

The waterskiing Bates Bobcat (Stu Abelson ’97) ends his trek across Lake Andrews on May 23, 1997. (Jose Leiva)

Abelson points to Edgar Shein, the organizational theorist, who calls events like this “artifacts” of an organization, those visible elements that members of the organization see and say, “Yes! That is so us!”

“Teammwork and creativity,” says Abelson. “That’s what Bates is all about.”

Abelson, today a Bates trustee, is president and CEO President of Ora, the world’s leading ophthalmic product development firm and perennially a leading recruiter and employer of Bates graduates.

“That’s why Ora goes to Bates. Those talents are nurtured at Bates, and when students graduate they’re ready.”

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