In the late 1970s, Lou Ann Best and her husband, Chuck, rescued a squirrel after a hurricane struck their Florida town. The squirrel became a family pet.
A child's birthday gift, of all things, helped turn the squirrel into a worldwide celebrity, as well as a sideshow attraction at this week's Atlantic City Power Boat Show.
"My husband bought our daughter a remote-controlled boat for her birthday, and then he got teased so much for buying her this boat, that he played with it all the time, so he figured he better come up with another excuse for buying the boat," Lou Ann Best said. "So he said, ‘I gotta learn to drive it so I can teach my squirrel to water ski with it.'"
Three decades and eight squirrels later, Twiggy the water-skiing squirrel remains a marquee attraction. The squirrel has appeared in big-budget movies - most notably 2004's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" - reality shows, Guinness records, videos in foreign languages, etc. Now, Twiggy is stealing the spotlight at the Atlantic City International Power Boat Show at the Convention Center.
The act starts with Lou Ann Best buckling a safety vest over Twiggy's torso. Best stands in a plastic pool, the water maybe a foot deep, and places Twiggy onto a ski platform. A boat then pulls the furry rodent, circling the pool until Twiggy decides she has had enough water-skiing. The squirrel jumps onto the boat, then climbs up Best's arm, and she is met with kisses from her owner.
The boat features Progressive's logo slapped onto the side. The insurance company serves as Twiggy's sponsor.
Yes, the water-skiing squirrel has a sponsor.
The act carries special meaning for Best. Her husband suffered a heart attack and drowned in 1997 while trying to save a relative. So beyond the crowds and the smiles, she sees Twiggy as a way to teach people about water safety, hoping that a water-skiing squirrel in a life jacket can help save someone's life.
"Being around the water and on a boat is the best thing, and most relaxing thing you can do together as a family," she said. "You just wanna be smart. Just like you wear your seat belts in your car, you want to learn to wear a life jacket, and learn to swim and learn to float."
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