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‘Dipping your little toes in the water’

Elaine Fatla trades water skiing for small business ownership

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May 27, 2024

ALMA CENTER – Going from being a world champion barefoot water skier to opening her own daycare, Elaine Fatla, owner of Little Toes Daycare Center in Alma Center, said her life has come full circle.

“My dad had a great passion for water skiing,” she said. “So much so, that when he saw I was talented at barefoot water skiing at a young age, he had a lake, ‘Blue Moo,’ dug in the middle of our farm’s property. It’s about a half-mile long and 120-130 feet wide.”

For many years, Fatla said perfecting her sport consumed much of her life – getting as far as world champion.

Nowadays, she said she spends her days chasing another passion – small business ownership.

Fatla operates her own daycare in the small Village of Alma Center in Jackson County, situated a little more than 40 miles southeast of Eau Claire.

Little Toes

Fatla said she’s always loved children – hence the reason she started her daycare center.

Attending school for hospitality management, she said she had an opportunity to take over a restaurant after college – “but my husband and I decided we wanted our time with family during weeknights and weekends.”

“I nannied throughout college, got married in 2013 and my niece was born a year later,” she said. “I took care of her.”

Fatla said when she and her husband, Greg, started talking about starting a family, “I expressed my dream of raising my children while also working full-time.”

“That dream led to starting my in-home daycare in 2014,” she said. “I then decided to become licensed to care for more children.”

Elaine Fatla and her husband, Greg, are shown water skiing with their four kids – Tucker, Cooper, Cayson and Karsyn. Submitted Photo

Over the next few years, Fatla said her waitlist grew, and “I desperately wanted to help more families.”

“After about five years doing childcare out of my home, I realized there was a big need in the community for childcare,” she said. “This was the perfect way to turn my dream into a reality.”

Strangely enough, Fatla said the building where the daycare is located, she said, was her childhood home.

Little Toes currently has about seven teachers – including herself – and a few support staff.

“We have four classrooms – an infant room, ones and twos, older twos and threes and then threes and fours,” she said. “Our center is licensed for 27 children, but we have a lot of part-time children – we’re full on capacity. I’d say we are well-staffed currently, but I wouldn’t mind having a few substitutes on hand. We continue to look for opportunities to grow and improve daily.”

A champion on the water, too

Fatla said she credits the strong work ethic she has with her business to her many years as a water skier – a sport she started doing at age four.

“When I was eight, we were skiing on the Fourth of July,” she said. “If you know anything about water skiing in Wisconsin on the Fourth, it’s busy with boats, making the water rough. My dad tells this story all the time – I had my foot in the toe strap (on the ski), and I was behind the boat picking at my fingernails when it was super rough. He thought to himself, ‘If she’s doing that when the water is this rough, she can do more.’”

That winter, Fatla said her dad signed her up for barefoot lessons in Florida.

“A few years later – I was still taking lessons,” she said. “I joined a local ski team in Eau Claire called the ‘Ski Sprites’ and I did that for a few years. I did a lot of acts with that team, whether it was barefoot, ballet or pyramids. At that point, I knew I wanted to be a world champion.”

Sometime later, while sitting on a chair lift downhill skiing with her dad, Fatla said she made that bold prediction out loud. 

“I forgot about this story, but my mom reminded me about it,” she said. “When I was on the chair lift, I turned to my dad and said, ‘I want to be a world champion.’ Since that moment, he pushed me and did all he could to help me accomplish that goal and make that dream a reality.”

What does a parent do when their daughter makes such a bold prediction?

Have a lake dug in the middle of a cornfield, of course.

Elaine Fatla said to make her dreams of becoming a world champion barefoot water skier come true, her dad had a lake dug in the middle of their farm’s property. “Blue Moo” is about a half-mile long and 120-130 feet wide. Submitted Photo

“It was dug in a cornfield on the family farm,” she said. “The reason it’s called ‘Blue Moo’ is because we grew up on a dairy farm. That helped my training a ton… It’s crazy my dad did that for me. It’s amazing what parents will do to help their kids reach their goals.”

More water skiing

For her efforts in barefoot water skiing over the years, Fatla was recently inducted into the USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Hall of Fame in Florida – the only member of this year’s class.

“It was a great honor – every time I think about it, it puts tears in my eyes,” she said. “From my understanding, you get nominated and put into a pool with the other nominees.”

Fatla said she bowed out of water skiing after a competition in 2012, partly due to injury.

“I suffered a shoulder injury before worlds – I was still able to compete – but that was basically the end of my water skiing career,” she said. “I still ski here and there – we’re working on teaching our children how to barefoot now. I’d like to get back into it, but now that I’m a mom, I’m scared of falling and hurting myself.”

According to USA Water & Wake Sports, “Fatla is the first and only American woman to fly inverted off a barefoot ramp, land and ski away in competition.”

“I started inverting in 2008 at a competition in New Zealand, but there was a lot of pressure at that tournament… I was unsuccessful at doing it,” she said. “In the World Games in Taiwan in 2009, that was the first time I completed it. The first woman to do it was from South Africa – probably 10 years before I did it.”

Fatla’s accomplishments include one Elite Women’s World Championship title, three World Games titles and five U.S. National Open Women’s titles.

“I miss it – it was a huge part of my life,” she said. “Every summer, I think about doing more barefooting, but I’m busy at the daycare and life. I try to get out with the kids, but I’m hoping in a couple of years, my time will settle down.”

For now, Fatla said she is content with running Little Toes and enjoying her life with her husband and four kids.

For more information on Little Toes, find it on Facebook or visit

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