CUMMING — Marc Fuentes does not let his cerebral palsy stop him from competing.
The 24-year-old has been participating in Ultimate Air Dogs with his 3-year-old Rottweiler, Lady, for about two years. And their strategy isn’t much different than those of opposing teams without movement disorders.
When Lady competes, she is judged on how far or high she can jump from a dock while catching a toy Fuentes throws into a pool.
The only change is that he throws the toy from the side of the pool — as opposed to the dock — from his wheelchair.
His mother, Sherri Fuentes, stands on the dock with Lady.
“They usually place in every event,” she said. “It takes a lot of work to coordinate on the dock for her. We have to time his throw. Because when he goes to throw he will say “go,” but it may not be a go because it has to get from his brain to his hand, and that takes longer than in typical people.”
Sherri Fuentes said her son has always loved sports, especially while attending Forsyth Central High School. He participated in Special Olympics events and played Miracle League baseball, but began looking for something different after graduation.
“This keeps him active. It may not look like it, but it still burns calories doing Air Dogs, and he’s out and doing things,” Fuentes said. “It gives him something to look forward to.”
Ultimate Air Dogs was created in 2005 by former Detroit Tigers pitcher Milt Wilcox and his son, Brian.
“Marc loves sports, and baseball is one of his favorite sports,” Sherri Fuentes said. “And it’s all about the family. We get to do it together as a family.”
They even make a weekend trip about traveling to competitions.
“We set up a tent, and it’s like a big tailgate. He has friends from all over Georgia and from other states,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to get out and about. He doesn’t like to stay at home. So we will go camping together.”
She said it has been difficult to find out-of-school activities her son can participate in with a disability.
“He chose this over baseball because he feels included, and it’s what he wanted,” she said.
Lady has upheld her part.
“She’s a Rottweiler, and they’re not natural swimmers. It took her a month to convince her she could swim, and another month to get her to jump off the dock,” Sherri Fuentes said. “Once she did it, oh man, you can’t keep her out of the water.”
She knows how the competition works, too.
“She counts. You get two jumps in each [competition] back to back. She knows after the second one her turn is over, so she will play in the water until we have to get her out,” Sherri Fuentes said.
Lady’s personal best jump is 21 feet, 6 inches, but sometimes she only gets 17 or 18 feet out. They qualified for the Ultimate Air Games in Missouri at the end of the month, a culmination of about 10 events they travel to annually between March and October.
“It’s nice that they place most of the time, but mostly she doesn’t know if she won,” she said. “But she’ll do it for Marc pretty much every time.”
If man and dog individually both enjoy participating in UAD, they’re that much better as a team.
“She does things for him she won’t do for anyone else,” Sherri Fuentes said. “Like when we’re playing fetch, she’ll drop it at my feet, but she’ll put it in his lap. She’s protective over him.
“She really has just changed our lives. She got us into all of this. We have other dogs that jump for me now, but she started all of this.”