Surviving the Big Chill by Jeff Perry

Now is the winter of our discontent — surely Shakespeare must have been a disc dogger. The approach of cold weather is a sad thing indeed for those who desire to bond with their canines via a well-thrown flying disc. You may think that it’s pretty much the same with all disc sports, but disc doggers actually have a more difficult time of it when old-man winter squats on the playing field. Why? Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine that it’s midwinter in Chicago and there’s a breeze blowing off the lake.

Anyway, even with the warm streak, it’s still about 10 degrees in the Windy City. You, the prudent disc dogger, are bundled up in your Pirelli Man down suit, while faithful Shep waits at your side. You grab your Pluto Platter, and with as much grace as a deep-sea diver, you fling the disc to Shep. It’s bad enough that the disc turns over in the breeze because you just can’t seem to master that annoying hyzer thing, but the real moment of suckage comes when Shep puts the cold, slobbered-on disc in your hand. Despite the searing pain, the disc doesn’t actually freeze to your hand, it just feels that way. You make your second throw quickly, to rid yourself of the icy menace as the wind now begins to have its way with your wet hand. If you survive your three-throw practice session without frostbite, your throwing hand will burn for hours and make you feel like the star defensive player on a guts team.

In the olden days, when discs shattered like clay pigeons in freezing temps upon the happening of aerialis caninus interruptis, sage disc doggers kept hot Nalgene water bottles in their disc bags to warm their plastic as well as their hands. Some folks soldier on in wintertime by using [ball] golf gloves or even heavy neoprene gloves, but such contrivances make throwing a little like taking a shower with a raincoat. Such heroic measures may keep your dog fit, but they do nothing for your throwing technique.

The cold reality of winter weather means that in many parts of the country disc dogging must be put on ice until springtime. So, what can you do to keep yourself and Shep sane, sharp, and in shape until the disc dog season growls into gear in the spring? Well, there are quite a few things that smart disc doggers do.

To begin with, there is much that can be accomplished indoors, on the carpet in your living room. With the approach of colder weather, spend some time building a foundation for your freestyle routine. Before you even think about indoor disc dogging you must get the boring stuff out of the way first — it’s time to plan next year’s championship freestyle routine. It’s sort of like doing an outline before you do the term paper. It totally sucks, but it does seem to work. Winter is a great time for scheming and dreaming and even a little spirited thievery. By that I mean, taking the best freestyle moves of the top competitors, and adding your own unique twist to their tricks. Since it is well established that the top teams often don’t fix what ain’t broken, they will be blindsided when they see that you have co-opted their show-stopping tricks and made them even better. So this winter, while your competition is resting with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, you should be scouring film, World Championship DVDs, YouTube, and the like, for ideas that will allow you to build the mother of all routines that will shock and awe the judges.

Once all the brainwork is done, you can begin practicing your new routine, albeit on a smaller, winterized scale. The great thing about practicing indoors in a confined space is that it prepares you for the reality of life after you win the world championship (which you might do if you get a head start on the competition). Although most competitions take place outdoors on a football-sized field, you will not be so lucky for most media appearances or demonstrations that you might make after you have distinguished yourself from the also-rans. Over the years we have performed disc dog demos or made media appearances in scads of odd places, including on a carpet remnant outside Boston’s Fenway Park, on a stair landing in an Italian mansion, and in-between concrete pillars in a Mexico City shopping mall. Disc dog media appearances are often like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates in that regard. Anyway, the smallness of the typical living room, replete with coffee tables, couches, and crawling babies, will prepare you well for your star future, and keep your canine quick of mouth until the spring thaw.

Indoor play means long throws are not a possibility, of course (unless you’re Bill Gates), but there is a ton of short work that can be done. Back flips, disc juggling with your dog, multiple series, short tosses, overs and unders, and even vaulting tricks can be practiced indoors with caution. And even if you live in the icy hell of, say, Bismarck, North Dakota, you can still grip ‘em and rip ‘em by suspending a bed sheet or tarp from a rafter, which will stop your throws just fine. One final caution about throwing indoors — be sure that you have adequate clearance for your follow-through. I can assure you that whacking a piece of furniture or support column, with the back of your hand, is not nearly as much fun as it sounds.

Finally, when you think of disc sports, you don’t usually hear a discussion of conditioning for the human side of the equation, but there are some things you can do in the off-season to prepare for the rigors of springtime. Play some racquetball or basketball at the gym. The rapid cutting, starting, and stopping is very similar to the way you move in a freestyle routine. Also, work on strengthening your legs and lower back and your body core. A lot of squatting takes place on the playing field, and I’m not just talking about the dogs. Stretching is also crucial, especially if you want to dazzle the judges with some of the gymnastic moves and throws that many competitors now routinely make. Being in shape helps you make throws with more control. When you’re tired, you make mistakes and don’t look nearly as professional on the playing field. A little preparation and practice now will provide rich dividends to you when other competitors are just crawling out of their ice caves.

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