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Chad Gerber and his flying disc-loving All-American Dog, “Citra,” are more than just a talented freestyle team. They’ve both overcome severe health problems in their lives, and have found a new love for physical exercise within Disc Dog.

Gerber and Citra competed at the AKC Disc Dog Challenge, presented by The Farmer’s Dog. The competition features four disc games. The Minneapolis, Minnesota team competed in Freestyle at the event in Asheville, North Carolina. The AKC Disc Dog Challenge will premiere on ESPN2 on Saturday, June 15.

Finding the Right Dog

When Gerber and his wife, Vicky, moved in together, they immediately sought a dog with a lot of energy. They got their first dog, an All-American Dog named “Shiba,” who would run with Vicky daily. They soon found that even after five or six miles, Shiba wasn’t phased. When tossing around a ball, they found that she was good at it, and looked to see if any organizations in their area offered anything where they could compete with Shiba. “We found the Minnesota Disc Dog Club, and I guess the rest is history,” Gerber says. They’ve been doing Disc Dog since 2012.

They began fostering dogs, and that’s how they met Citra. From the start, they saw something in her. “She’s playing, she’s hopping up, she looks excited and has lots of drive,” he recalls. The Gerbers knew she’d be a perfect disc teammate.

But once they started doing routine testing for her, they discovered something no one wants to hear: she had heartworm.

“She had to go through heartworm treatment to get her all better. Here was this high energy dog, getting three injections over four months,” Gerber says. “Treatment was tough, but once she was given the all-clear, she was ready to start chasing balls and Frisbees and kept on getting better.”

Wyatt Lees

A Pivot in Competitive Sports

Gerber shares a similar recovery story that only made him and Citra closer. From a young age, Gerber was an athlete and loved being involved in sports. He loved contact sports as a child, and was playing basketball when he was 10 years old when he started to feel sick. For the next few months, they did tests, and found that his kidneys had failed.

“It was completely unexpected,” Gerber says. “There’s no genetic markers or issues that can be common with people that have kidney transplants.” He remembers that doctors had determined that it was an inflammation of blood vessels that attacked his kidneys and led to kidney failure.

Luckily, his parents were able to donate their kidneys, and his dad ended up donating his for the organ transplant. Gerber was in the hospital for about five weeks before he could go home, and was then on dialysis for five months. “I had one episode of rejection nine months after that, and it’s been smooth sailing for 26 years.”

The biggest downside that Gerber faced was being unable to do contact sports like he used to. “I was very competitive, but tried to get back into baseball in high school, which is fairly non-contact,” he says. He moved onto non-contact sports like golf and bowling, so he could still fuel his competitive nature without risking his kidneys in any way. Later on, he also played basketball, bowling, and table tennis.

“Once we got our Chiba, when I found out you could compete with your dogs, it was something I never had really considered before then,” he says. “No one coming after you except the dog, who’s only 40 pounds.”

Chad Gerber

Celebrating 25 Years Post-Surgery With UpDog

“It’s been a lot of fun to learn together. We’ve had to learn to become good teammates,” Gerber says. “Shiba is very different than Citra. She can be very competitive, and there are lots of games where we can play in UpDog where she can score well and get on podiums.”

UpDog and disc competitions have become such a big part of Gerber’s life, that he wanted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his kidney transplant with a disc competition. “I thought it would be a natural fit to convert the fund money into donations for a charity,” he says.

He organized a one-day competition with two fields, where friends and disc-loving teams came from all over Minnesota to compete. They had a lot of support from the local crew in Minnesota, and between donations and corporate matching, they were able to raise $4500 for Donate Life in Minnesota, a non-profit donor registry.

Kerri Schreiber

Building a Bond Through Disc Dog

The bond that Gerber and Citra have is just one of the many things they’ve gained from the sport of disc. “There’s a lot of teams that we’ve gotten to know around the country,” Gerber says. The AKC Disc Dog Challenge brings together teams from all over the U.S. to compete. “It’ll be fun to see them again, have some comradery.”

Citra isn’t a one-disc pony either. With Vicky, Citra competes in AKC Scent Work, and just got her Elite Champion title in the sport.

As for the AKC Disc Dog Challenge, the team is excited for Freestyle. “There’s more ingenuity involved, and I really like to throw the disc with lots of different releases and formats,” Gerber says. “I like to showcase myself as much as helping to showcase Citra. It’s our favorite game.”

Catch! The AKC Disc Dog Challenge will premiere on ESPN2 on Saturday, June 15 at 12PM ET. You won’t want to miss these high-flying dog teams in action.

Related article: Its Not Fiction: Watson Competes at AKC Disc Dog Challenge
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