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Humans, dogs take on great outdoors



Published: Sat, July 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Games air July 14-17 on ESPN and ABC Sports.

By DON WILSON

ORLANDO SENTINEL

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Stuart Mah, 50, spent most of his life repairing shattered jaws.

Heather Williams, 30, has spent the past 2 1/2 years breaking bones -- her own -- in freestyle motocross events.

Both have one thing in common -- they're among the 187 competitors in the ESPN Great Outdoor Games next week at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

Mah, a maxillofacial surgeon from Briceville, Fla., retired seven years ago to spend his time training dogs. He'll be working with his "best friend," a 42-pound, black-and-white border collie named Qwik, in the sporting dogs competition.

Mah said the two have formed an almost ESP-like bond.

"I use voice commands and body language to communicate with Qwik ... but it's gotten to the point I just have to think about something I want him to do and he starts to do it -- it's almost like he can read what you're thinking. It's scary," Mah said.

The pair won the silver medal in the 2004 games and will need every trick they've got this year.

Agility trial

The agility event is tough. Qwik must go over tire jumps, high jumps, low jumps, even climb a 6-foot, 3-inch tall wall.

The most spectacular is the Slalom: a dozen poles 2 feet apart that the dog has to weave its way through as fast as it can. Qwik looks like he's part eel as he slithers through the poles.

"Agility measures interaction between the handler and his dog," Mah said. "People who do well have a close bond with the dogs, who try harder and make more of an effort. Qwik has tried a lot harder than he should have in some events."

After Qwik did exceptionally well in a recent demonstration, Mah got prone, head-to-head with Qwik, to give him a big hug.

"He likes toys or cookies, but he'd rather be with dad more," Mah said. "Qwik goes everywhere with me -- to the bank, the store -- he's my bud."

Mah said this year's agility events "are going to be like a gunfight."

The Agility is just one of five sporting dog competitions during the games.

Woman competitor

Heather Williams doesn't know what to expect in the Terracross Competition, which is new to the games this year. It is one of two ATV competition events.

All she knows is she's the only woman among the eight competitors.

"It's me against seven guys -- this is going to be really wild," said Williams, the 5-foot 9-inch and 135-pound resident of Cartersville, Ga.

She'll be piloting a four-wheel ATV through mud bogs, over rocks, up sand hills and "all kinds of terrain you can imagine."

At one point, she'll have to dismount, take off her helmet and pick up a bow and some arrows for archery competition to hit a "deer" target.

Then she's got to hoist a heavy sack, representing the deer, onto the ATV and continue through obstacles without losing her trophy.

"I'm just praying it doesn't weigh as much as a real deer," she said.

Williams really is into an extreme form of two-wheeled competition: freestyle motocross jumping.The games will be aired on ESPN and ABC Sports July 14-17. For information, go to www.greatoutdoorgames.com.




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