GOLDSBY — Television viewing might not lead to life-changing moments for most people, but it has for Lee Fairchild.
Fairchild, 53, had just ended his career as a team roper in 1999. One night he was watching ESPN and stumbled upon the Disc Dog World Championships. He was mesmerized.
“I saw a man named Bob Evans who was 65, the oldest guy in the competition, and his dog was also the oldest dog in the competition and they ended up winning,” he said. “It was just a really neat thing.”
That was 13 years ago. Now Fairchild is a world champion, capturing three titles since 2005, and finds Disc Dog to be compatible with his age. Team roping isn't.
“This is something I could do into my 70s,” he said. “It gets you out of the house and moving around, but it's not as physically tough on your body as roping. That really wears on you after a while. I feel like I'm as passionate about this as I was when I started.”
That's not to say Disc Dog doesn't require work. Fairchild's day job is with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He still makes time to throw flying discs by himself five to six times per week to refine his technique. His dog, Gracie, joins him two to three times per week.
And it also helps to have a partner who brings serious skills to the table. Gracie has been a quick study over the years, and her athletic ability is unsurpassed.
“She's extremely focused and very athletic,” he said. “She's like a mini Michael Jordan.”
Competitions usually consist of two rounds of freestyle where Gracie and Fairchild perform a series of tricks, but all tricks have to begin and end with a disc in flight. There is also one minute of toss and catch. In that event Fairchild throws the disc in an area about half the size of a football field. If Gracie and Fairchild don't connect, points are deducted.
“There's a lot of precision to it,” he said. “You can't be off by much. If you are, things just sort of fall apart.”
While Fairchild was a quick study to the sport, achieving what some take decades to do, he still finds value in the simplest things about it.
“I've always been a pretty competitive person but the real reason I do it is to have fun with my dogs and meet people and establish friendships,” he said. “I didn't get good at it until 2005, but I had a whole lot of fun before then.”