Dogs are considered man’s best friend. They are faithful and loving companions who show their unwavering support, emotionally and physically. Jordan Connelly’s Border Collie Buc led the 11-year old to a championship title at the Incredible Dog Challenge. Three-time Olympic gold medalist, Gail Devers, conquers the hurdles in life and on the track with her Pomeranian Kaleb. Deena Drossin Kastor (the best hope for a U.S. medal in the women’s marathon at the Olympic Games this summer) receives motivation to run the distance from her chocolate Labrador Retriever Aspen. Read their inspirational and humorous stories.
An 11-Year Old and Her Dog Buc Make it Big at the Incredible Dog Challenge
Jordan Connelly, of Tampa, Florida, would wake up every Saturday morning to watch Zig Zag, a dog agility show, on television. Although she was only eight years old at the time, Connelly made up her mind that one day she was going to compete in this sport. But, first, she had to convince her parents to get a dog. Her mom and dad worked full-time and getting a canine pet was out of the question.
However, luck was on Connelly’s side. Her wishes were granted when her mom started working part-time and was able to help take care of a dog. With her parents’ blessing, Connelly selected a Border Collie, a breed known for its agility, to join her family. Her father, Leonard, selected their new pet’s name. “Buc was named after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team. I told Jordan she could get a dog, but I get to name him. We live three miles from the stadium and are big fans,” says Leonard Connelly.
Jordan Connelly knew that in order for her and Buc to make it to the competitive level, she needed the help of a dog agility trainer. She and her parents went to K.E.T.C.H. (K-9, Educational, Training, Center of Hillsborough) and enlisted the help of Wendy Pape, the top trainer in the country. Pape wasn’t certain about working with someone as young as Connelly. “But, being the great person that she is, [Wendy] took me in. Who says luck does not strike in the same place twice?” said Connelly.
The road to victory came with a few bumps. Connelly recalls, “At first, it was hard and discouraging, but the truth is, me and Buc learned together.” While Connelly learned how to handle, Buc learned to watch her moves and how to perform on each obstacle. The duo diligently trained, attending an agility class with Pape once a week and working every day, mostly in the form of racing games to increase Buc’s speed.
Eventually, they got their routine down and began beating other canine competitors with adult handlers at local competitions. Their big break came when they were invited to compete in the Purina Dog Chow Incredible Dog Challenge, which has been referred to as the “Canine Olympics,” in April 2004. While only eleven-years-old, Jordan Connelly and Buc took first place in the junior division. They are now qualified in the excellent division in the A.K.C. and the “Intermediate Agility Class” in the USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association).
Besides being a class athlete, Buc has a few tricks up his sleeve, or paw. He opens the refrigerator to get a juice box, closes it, and brings his handler a cool drink. He is also a skilled actor, playing dead when Connelly makes her fingers into a gun, points at him, and says, “Bang!” When she would say, “Eventually every dead dog gets rigamortis,” Buc sticks his paws up in the air and stays still!
Jordan Connelly and Buc have proven they are a winning combination. By training diligently towards their goal, they beat the challenge! For more information on the Incredible Dog Challenge and training your dog, visit www.dogchow.com.
Three-Time Olympic Champion Shares Her Four-Legged Training Secret
Gail Devers is a three-time Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter dash and relay, a World Champion in the 100-meter dash and hurdles, and has earned the title “fastest woman in the world” during the 2000 Olympic Games in Barcelona. To say that she is accomplished is an understatement. It takes extraordinary talent, skill, and training to achieve one medal or title, let alone the many that Devers has won. To help her stay ahead of the pack, she trains consistently with her coach and loyal training partner – a four-legged, three-and a half-year-old, 7-pound ball of fur named Kaleb – who happens to be her Pomeranian.
While I was skeptical how a small Pomeranian could enhance a champion’s training, any doubts soon disappeared after she revealed the big personality and coaching style behind this little dog. Kaleb loves to run and he’ll go the distance with Devers, even barking at her if she slows her pace. His ability to grasp her routine and understand her body language enables him to be an effective training partner. “He knows how to move,” says Devers. “On your mark, get set – and if you don‘t go when you say ‘GO!’ – he’ll get mad.”
Training with Kaleb was a natural progression for Devers because she takes her furry friend everywhere she goes, including board meetings and social events. “If he’s not invited, I’m not invited,” she says. She treats Kaleb as if he was human, not a canine. “He doesn’t know he’s a dog. He thinks he’s a fur person. We don’t use the ‘D’ word,” whispers Devers.
However, she didn’t anticipate him taking an active role in her running because of his small size. She thought, “He’s a Pomeranian; he’s not supposed to run that much.” But, Kaleb had plans of his own. “Every time somebody would try and hold him, he would just wiggle and try to bite to get away from them, and he would take off running. As long as I was running, he kept running,” says Devers.
Being a quick learner, Kaleb started training regularly with Devers surprising her with his motivational techniques. Now, when she needs an extra push, like when she is doing biometrics drills up and down the stairs, she tells him, “Mommy needs your help.” He barks in response, running up and down the stairs with her, barking at her if she slacks off (Devers doesn’t say barking she refers to it as yelling).
When Devers is doing a block start on the track, Kaleb positions himself on the grass behind her and knows exactly what to do. When he hears, “Runners, take your mark,” Kaleb lies down on the grass as Devers gets in the block. When “Set” is called out, he sits up, with his ears perked up. “As soon as the start gun goes off or the person yells ‘GO!’ I take off and he takes off…I know that if I slow down or slack off at any point, he’s going to beat me. I am not going to let this little dog beat me!” exclaims Devers.
How can a Pomeranian keep up with the “fastest woman in the world”? He cheats. Well, not intentionally. “He keeps up with me because he cuts off the curve,” admits Devers. That little boost puts him in a position ahead of Devers, motivating her to run faster to beat him to the finish line. “If this little dog can run and he doesn’t mind doing it, I better get out there and do it,” says Devers.
Going for the Gold 2004?
The question on everyone’s mind is whether Devers is going to compete in the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. Will she try and capture the one medal that has eluded her, the 100-meter hurdles? “Everybody wants me to go to the Olympic Games, and I haven’t decided whether I’m going yet. I’ve gone four times. If I go this year, it will be my fifth. There are so many other things that I’m doing with my life, that with track and field, I’m going day by day.”
Those other things are dear to Devers’ heart. She teamed up with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department to start the Gail Devers Foundation. According to Devers, the foundation’s goal is “to be a compelling force, to inspire change and make a difference” in the lives of youth by following the philosophy she lives her life by. Youth participate in a program called “Force” (Focus on Respect, Commitment, and Excellence) and sign a contract to show their commitment in improving their lives.
Devers is also working on writing her autobiography. Although several books have been written about her, she wants to tell the full story, in her own words. “There’s a lot to be told,” she says (another understatement). This amazing lady ran to victory after a heroic recovery from Graves’ disease, a debilitating chronic thyroid disorder, which almost resulted in having both of her feet amputated. Despite being told “you can’t coach yourself in a technical event,” Devers has been doing just that, with Kaleb’s help. In February 2004, she made U.S. track history by being the only American to win both the 60-meter dash and the 60-meter hurdles at the U.S. Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Her athletic talent is evident, but it is her emotional attitude that is one of her strongest attributes. In response to facing Graves’ disease, she remarks, “It’s a very small price to pay to have the quality of life that I have. Everybody has something that they have to deal with and it is how you deal with it that makes the difference. There are two things you can do when you are faced with a challenge. You can conquer it or you can be conquered. I choose to conquer it every time.”
As Devers is a force in young people’s lives, Kaleb is a force in hers. She believes he came into her life for a reason. She says, “I didn’t pick him. God gave him to me. To protect me and to be there for me, to be my guardian angel and he does that.” For more information on Gail Devers or her foundation, please visit www.gaildevers.com.
DEENA DROSSIN KASTOR
Gets Help Running the Distance from her Chocolate Labrador Retriever
Deena Kastor (née Drossin) is representing the United States in the women’s marathon at summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. She is considered to be the U.S.’s best hope for a medal since Benoit Samuelson won the marathon in 1984. Kastor is regarded by many as the most accomplished U.S. woman distance runner of all time. She set the American marathon record of 2:21:16 in London in 2003, and holds national and local titles in long distance running. Who is helping her train for the Olympics and the 2004 ING New York City Marathon in November? None other than her best friend, her 8 year old chocolate Labrador Retriever named Aspen.
Kastor, who grew up with dogs, missed having a canine companion after graduating from the University of Arkansas. She wanted a pet to share her life with. After going to the local pound, just for a look, she saw a box full of puppies that were just brought in on that cold, blustery day. The seven pups looked malnourished and were covered with fleas and ticks. Kastor noticed the one chocolate Labrador among them, whose unique personality won her heart.
“All of the dogs were jumping and scratching at the side of the box and Aspen was just sitting there with her head cocked to the side, her ears perked, looking at me. I picked her up and she nuzzled next to my neck, that was it for me.”
Aspen’s mellow personality fits perfectly with Kastor’s. “They say that animals and their owners are quite alike and I guess I would have to agree,” she says. The two enjoy lounging around together and going on errands. Both of them have independent spirits. “Her favorite thing to do in the world is eating and running, which is the same as me,” jokes Kastor. Aspen has some peculiar favorite food choices, for a canine. She loves eating bananas, pears and crunching on carrots. “She can be anywhere in the house and if she hears the pop of a banana, she comes running in the kitchen,” says Kastor. To reward her beloved pet, Kastor gives Aspen liver-flavored brownies from a local dog bakery. No wonder Aspen loves to go with Kastor on errands!
However, Aspen doesn’t need to be given special treats to run with Kastor. Running is a reward in itself for the chocolate Labrador. When Kastor asks, “Do you want to go running outside?” Aspen heads straight for the door, her tail wagging with excited anticipation. Although Kastor runs 12 to 24 miles on her own every morning, she trains with Aspen by running 4 to 6 miles in the afternoon, six days a week. While the afternoon run is shorter in distance, Kastor, who has been running since she was 11, considers it to be the more challenging run of the day. But, Aspen is there to motivate Kastor. “My second run is always the toughest one. But, when I’m home, to see how playful and excited [Aspen] is to get out, makes the run exciting for me,” explains Kastor.
Aspen has a gift for making the run more enjoyable because of her fun-loving spirit. Kastor finds her pet’s new motivation ploy most amusing. “She just acquired this new habit this year that she jumps into the snow and then starts rolling around in it, scratching and just going ballistic in the snow, trying to get it all around her. She nuzzles her way into it and it had me laughing so hard the first time she did it, that she started doing it every time we would go out to run.” When they stop to take a break, they play fetch at the lake, and if there is snow they play fetch with snowballs; Aspen loves catching them in her mouth!
According to Kastor, Aspen has enhanced every part of her running experience. The long distance runner’s least favorite time to run is during strong winds, and she recalls how Aspen helped her get through an especially windy day.
“This one day, her ears were flying back and flopping. We were running in the wind and she was standing on this high bank and putting her nose up in the air and letting the wind pass by her face. I thought, ‘She’s having so much fun.’ I enjoyed the whole rest of my run, even though it was almost a tornado outside.”
Living in Mammoth Lakes, California, Kastor and Aspen have a number of breathtaking areas to choose from for their afternoon run. Aspen’s favorite place to run is by the lake (they have six lakes to choose from). After Kastor rolls down the window in her car, Aspen can smell they are near the lake and gets very excited. “She’s really fast, going in and out of the trails, going in and out of the trees and then she’d plow down to the water and dive in from a high spot. So, she loves it up there!” exclaims Kastor.
Besides being Kastor’s training partner, Kastor says, “[Aspen] definitely has been my greatest companion.” Kastor’s beloved dog has been a constant in her life – from her move to Colorado, “sight unseen,” to her move back to California. By having Aspen by her side, Kastor felt everything was going to be okay. “We’ve gone through so many stages together…through so many transitions, she’s been there,” says Kastor.
Aspen’s ability to be a positive influence emotionally and athletically will no doubt give Deena Kastor a competitive edge in the Olympics this summer and the ING NY Marathon this fall. For more information on Deena Drossin Kastor, please visit www.deenadrossin.com.