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AJSA hosts its first race at Lake Imogene

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Teagan Hill, 6X National, 4X World Champion, current point leader in the Premier Pro 1050 Class, racing across Lake Imogene.

Teagan Hill of Rutherfordton definitely hopes to return to Lake Imogene at Isothermal Community with the American Jet Ski Association (AJSA) series for another racing competition.

The 15-year-old R-S Central student was among 78 racers competing at the summer series event held the weekend of August 12. Approximately 2,000 spectators watched the inaugural AJSA event.

Teagan is a 6X national, 4X world champion, current points leader in the Premier Pro 1050 class and it was his father Brad Hill who helped secure the venue at Isothermal.

"The race at ICC was definitely one to remember. There was a lot of tight battles and great racing going on everywhere. It was nice to have a race in my hometown because a lot of people I knew came to watch. It was definitely my favorite race site. There were many factors that made the ICC race such a fun one," Teagan said.

Brad Hill, who owns JBH Enterprises (contracting company) in Rutherford County is AJSA's Chief of Race Operations.

"Our area is a great place with many things to do and see, and (brought) some exciting jet ski racing to Spindale," Brad said. "As a resident of Rutherford County, I am excited to share this amazing community with my race family and friends."

Brad helps find venues for AJSA so he traveled to the headquarters of AJSA in Chattanooga, TN to invite the association to consider coming to Rutherford County.

"With a common interest in bringing racing back to the Southeast of the country, we contacted them and gave them some venues where we could host the regional racing here and they agreed.

An ICC alumni, Brad said "I knew the background and I knew ICC would be a good place to race."

He contacted one of the college's vice presidents and acquaintance Stephen Matheny and inquired about the possibility.

"I ran this crazy idea by him and a few minutes later he called back and said 'we are in'."

"They were generous enough to give us a very reasonable rate to rent the facility and were amazing to work with."

"Part of Isothermal's mission is to connect the community with diverse cultural experiences, so we are very pleased to be able to host such an exciting event," said Dr. Margaret Annunziata, Isothermal's president.

Brad said all the sponsors, Rutherford County Sheriff's Department, Rutherford County Tourism and Spindale Police Department 'were so absolutely amazing to work with." Others also showed up to help during the three days.

"They were at our disposal anytime we needed them," he said.

Brad, who serves as the Chairman of the Board for Church of the Exceptional, also said he approached Rutherford Life Services (RLS) about being the recipient of race proceeds.

"Proceeds from Friday's corporate challenge races went to the local charity, which was the RLS which is dear to my heart."

Brad said many of those who attend the Church of the Exceptional are also clients at RLS.

"We also approached them to see if they had any members who would like to jet ski," Brad said.

"After working out a plan with them, we got members to ride a jet ski with a co-pilot and they raced for timed laps on Friday afternoon," he said. They loved it."

"This was one of the most fun races we've had all year," said Keith McAfee, AJSA's chief partnership officer. "I hold the distinct honor to be the first to ever ride a jet ski on that lake.

For Marilla Okpych, it was the first time she'd ever been on a jet ski before.

"I got the opportunity just to ride for fun. Keith McAfee asked if I would want to come race for team Jarheads on Saturday and I was thrilled. I am so thankful that God let me have an opportunity like this one.

"Triple Cross Ministries welcomed me and my family as friends and they were all so supportive and encouraging to me while I raced. Sophie Francis truly inspired me. She is an amazing racer and an even better person," said Marilla, who lives in Rutherfordton.

"Everyone with AJSA was so kind and I really enjoyed being in that Christian atmosphere. I'm not good at racing, but I'm willing to work hard and race better," Marilla said.

"To anyone who gets the opportunity like that, take it. It might change your life and the way you view things. It certainly did for me and not to mention memories that will last a lifetime," she said.

"Thanks everyone who supported, encouraged and was patient with me, especially my family who sat there the whole time right next to me," she said.

The AJSA seeks to promote racing at all levels in the United States. AJSA desires to serve riders at every experience level. Whether a seasoned racer or interested in learning how to race, AJSA has a place for all interested. The AJSA is not associated with any other sanctioning body. The reason for starting their own sanctioning body is to allow the focus to be placed on the riders and the venues where races will be held. In other words, racing for racers by racers with a focus on friends, family, and fun.

This event, in partnership with the Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority and Isothermal Community College, showcased the uniqueness of the community by promoting its distinctive resources, events, and attractions to both visitors and citizens.

Lake Imogene is a unique site and it is very centralized for restaurants for hotels and easy access to the highways for bigger rigs. "And, one of the best sites for spectators due to the arena feeling," said McKee.

The event was to promote Rutherford County and it was not a disappointment, said McAfee and Brad.

"We're already in the talking stages about coming back here," McAfee said.

"I hope so," Brad added.

Making its debut in 2019 as the Chattanooga Jet Ski Club, the AJSA has grown exponentially and transformed into a grass roots southeastern racing league. Using Chattanooga, TN as its headquarters, the AJSA plans to focus most races of the Southern Summer Series within the Southeast United States.

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