Joe Druck is living a life he first saw on ESPN.
"It started before we had a dog. I'd seen dock diving on TV, thought it was the coolest thing ever," says the York Township resident. "Not in my wildest dreams did I think someday (we'd) own a world champion."
But 7-year-old Dutch shepherd Jager wasn't acquired to be a dock diver.
"We got him from a friend of a friend. He had this crazy toy drive. We heard from a friend (that Jager) likes to jump off docks. We have a pond. This was in December. By May we'd forgotten. I lobbed a tennis ball; he jumped after it, the craziest thing."
Druck still sounds surprised. "It all started in our backyard."
What it is: Dock diving involves three events: Big Air, Extreme Vertical and Speed Retrieve. Scoring well in all three in the Dock Dogs World Championship event earned Jager the Iron Dog 2011 title, which he then defended at the national championships. It represented a big jump over Jager's 2010 performance.
Training involves both dog and handler. Druck attributes their poor placement in the 2010 nationals to his lack, not Jager's.
"In 2010 we didn't do well, mainly because of me," he says. "In 2011, we won Iron Dog."
The long jump was the problem.
"Took a little bit of training. He's a smart dog -- it took longer to train me," Druck admits. "I would walk down and he'd be following me. I could not get him to sit, so I'd do what is called place and send: put the toy in the water, he'd jump 23-24 feet, for most people outstanding. I knew if I could get the right trajectory on a toy...."
Thanks to the help of some friends in Ohio, Druck worked on his technique, on "trying to really get the full potential, the right throw, the right timing, with a dog coming at you at 20-30 mph."
What's ahead: In 2011, that effort resulted in winning the Iron Dog Championship. Now, Druck and Jager are trying for a world record.
"He's consistently good. He did a 29-foot-4-inch jump. (But) if it isn't on camera, it's not official. It was a local club; they judge it manually. The current world record is 28 feet 10 inches," Druck says. "Now we're like 'he could break the record in long jump (Big Air).' This past week it was unbelievable (to) see him sail out there. He keeps surprising us, even after a couple of years."
Not that every member of the Druck family is involved with or impressed by Jager.
"My wife is really the one that's way into it ... my youngest son, Sam (10), travels, he sometimes handles other dogs at competitions; the other two could care less." Druck laughs. "We know he's a one in a million dog, jumping 29 feet, they're like 'oh well.'"
But Jager's happy just being a regular member of the household, too.
"He's got this off switch," Druck says. "Some dogs at his level are crazy all the time. You put the toy away, you come in the house, he's lying there, nudging you, wanting to get petted, licking your toes."
Druck and his wife, Jo, are very involved with the local dock diving club, Keystone Dogs. If you want to see what your dog can do with a toy and a dock, Druck has some advice.
"Contact the local club: Keystone Dogs. Best thing, we can get you to a practice, a competition. It's one of the strongest in the country," he says. "We do have local practices in the York area."
Meet Jager: Attendees at the annual Codorus Blast this weekend can meet Jager, either before or after the Dock Dogs competition. During his events, Jager's a busy dog, Druck says.
"In line, he's barking and waiting to get into it, competitive, like a racehorse," he says. "We love that dog, not just his athletic ability. He inspires me with his work ethic."
And Jager keeps diving and driving forward. Druck sees it in every training session.
"He has this incredible toy drive -- working dogs have it -- all about getting this toy," he says. "When you combine that with jumping into water, (it) takes it to a whole nother level. He just jumps and jumps and jumps; he keeps doing what he needs to to win."
The annual Codorus Blast is open from 4 to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Codorus State Park near Hanover.
Weekend activities include a family fun area, demonstrations by Civil War reenactors, a triathlon, kayak lessons, a nature tent, live music and more. The Dock Dog events start Friday and continue throughout the weekend. There will be vendors and a live auction.
Admission is free.
For more information, visit codorusblast.com.
-- Reach Michelle Denise Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org.