A Tribute by Tom Dropik

The Godfather

On that last day of June in 1996 a blue 1995 Chevy pickup stopped by our house in Elko, MN for one last time. It had been there several times before but I was too young to understand why. It was that last day that Tom had loaded me up and took me on a venture that I never dreamed possible. The venture started that day when my breakfast came up and went all over Tom’s floor of this pickup. I don’t know, I must have been a bit nervous. But after that, riding in a truck became my passion.

Tom and I lived in Prior Lake for the first 4 years of my life. During those years my life pretty much revolved around chasing pheasants and retrieving ducks. It was the life that any Labrador would cherish, really.

When I wasn’t chasing birds I found myself hanging out in the back yard. Tom had this really cool apple tree and I love apples. The trick was getting the apples down off the apple tree. I soon learned that if I jumped hard and high enough I could grab myself a nice apple and have myself a tasty snack. From then on I helped Tom by snatching those apples off the branches as far as I could before they hit the ground.

In August of 2000, Tom and I were watching TV when we saw some dogs jumping off a dock in to the water. It was the very first Big Air competition on ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games. Tom looked at me and said “Hey Tuck, you can do that”

It seems like just yesterday when Tucker came in to my life. A typical male Labrador puppy who was suppose to be my companion and my partner in the field chasing the ever elusive ring neck. After all I was a single guy with a love for hunting and no one else to share my life with. I had no idea at the time that this chunky little fur ball would turn me in a direction that would change my life forever.

It started that day in August of 2000 when Tucker and I watched the first ever televised Big Air competition on ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games. I remember the dogs were jumping huge 18’ jumps and having a ton of fun doing it. Here I had a Labrador that could trim an apple tree with the greatest of ease and was a full fledged water moccasin accomplishing full water retrieves at age of 7 weeks. He absolutely loved the water. I remember looking at Tucker and saying “That looks fun. What-a-ya think buddy? Want-a give’er a try?”. Of course Tucker was all about doing anything with his best pal.

I made a few phone calls and was able to get in touch with the founders of DockDogs. Melanie Field was excited that Tucker and I wanted to play at the Games but informed me that we had to qualify to do it. We had to compete in 1 of 4 qualifiers and finish in the top 3. Back then they only took 12 dogs to the Games. The closest qualifier at that time was the Sporting Dog Challenge in Little Rock, AR.  My girl friend Janeil, her 7 lb Shitzu Bailey, Tucker and I loaded up the truck for a 14 hour drive to Little Rock, AR just so Tucker could jump off a dock. Amazing…

Tucker jumped consistently in the 16’ range at that event with a best jump of 18’ and ended up taking 4th place overall. We missed qualifying by one place. I remember the drive home and reflecting on how fun the event was even though we didn’t qualify for the Games. Then, when we got home there was message on the answering machine from Melanie Field. One of the dogs ahead of us couldn’t compete and had to pull from the Games. That meant that Tucker and I were in. I remember looking at Tucker, ears perked up and out and tongue hanging out, a signature Tucker look, “hey Tuck, you did it buddy.”, “Want-a-go to New York and jump?”.



Tucker and I were very excited to be competing in our very first championship, the 2001 ESPN Great Outdoor Games in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains of Lake Placid, NY. I also remember that Huge jumping female black Labrador from the east coast name Heidi that we saw on TV that won the gold medal at the 2000 games. Heidi was jumping well in to the 20 foot range. I remember saying to Tucker, “Tuck, if we’re going to compete on National TV against a 20 foot jumping dog, we’re going to have to figure out how to jump farther than 18 feet buddy”. We immediately put our thinking caps on trying to figure out what it was going to take.

Through our trials and tribulations Tucker and I ultimately determined that the toy plays a major role in this game. It was all about the toy. Tucker was a pretty smart pooch and new that the toy would always be in the water after he jumped and new that no matter how hard he jumped, he’d get it. So I had to figure out how to keep Tucker from getting the toy if he didn’t jump hard. So, I came up with this idea of suspending the toy out of the water. If Tucker didn’t jump hard enough, he wouldn’t get the toy.  I built this contraption that I could hold and suspended the toy out over the water and would release the toy if he got it. The first attempt I held it out about 18’ and 4’ off the surface of the water. Tucker missed it by 3 feet. His second attempt he snatched it an landed well beyond the end of the pole.

That year after a memorable dinner that evening where my beautiful girl friend Janeil accepted my marriage proposal at the Steak and Seafood Emporium in Down Town Lake Placid, NY, Tucker went on to take home the Bronze Medal. It was at that time that I knew this game was going to grow and grow huge. I also knew at that time that there was a lot more to learn about what it takes to get these dogs to jump farther. It was the start of a venture for me, my wife, and Tucker that I never dreamed possible.

Tucker and continued to compete in 4 more ESPN Great Outdoor Games. 2002 in Lake Placid, NY, 2003 in Reno, NV, 2004 in Madison, WI, and 2005 in Orlando, FL. The games where aired prime time on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2.  Tucker became quite the national celebrity.

In the fall of 2001 Tucker was invited to compete at Animal Planets Aqua Launch at Universal Studios in Orland, FL.

In the spring of 2002 Tucker filmed a Great Outdoor Games commercial featuring former NBA super star Dominique Wilkins. The commercial was titled “Dominique Wilkins, dream coach of the Great Outdoor Games”. The commercial aired on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 throughout the month of July to promote the 2002 Games. At the same time Tucker appeared in the July 22nd 2002 issue of ESPN The Magazine. This double page layout promoted the 2002 Great Outdoor Games.

In 2002 Tucker was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal “
Meanwhile, all these shows are producing something unusual: celebrity dog athletes. Tucker, a champion dock diver, has flown across the country in first class and appeared in a commercial. "He's kind of a rock star," says owner Tom Dropik.

In the summer of 2003 Tucker was the main attraction at the half time show at Spring Ultimate Airwave, a sellout event at the State of the Art Freestyle Training Facility in Park City, UT. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association put on a freestyle jumping show featuring the top Olympian skiers from all over the world where the skiers would jump in to a pool. The ABC Sports and ESPN aired event definitely tested Tuckers spirit. Tucker was asked to jump off a ski jump that was 10 feet off the surface of the water. Tucker did not let the 5000 spectators down.

In 2004 Tucker and I were approached by the folks at STIHL. They were so intrigued with Tucker and the sport of dock jumping that they made us a member of Team STIHL which gave us the financial support we need to travel across the country to compete, train, and demonstrate this wonderful sport of ours. Our relationship with STIHL grew stronger every year. In fact, the folks at STIHL still mention how it was Tucker that brought them in to this sport and why they are still a huge supporter to this day.

 As a result of all these appearances, Tucker earned celebrity status on American Airlines and was able to fly sitting in his own seat next to me. We traveled dozens and dozens of times across the country training, educating and competing, and of course, entertaining many flight crews along the way. Sometimes we’d even get to fly 1st class. Wow, was that a treat. To this day I’m still not sure if Tucker really knew how much of a celebrity he really was. I don’t think he really cared. It was all about hanging with his best pal Tom.

All the time Tucker and I traveled the country, we’d bring our portable “Vertical Extender” with us. This was the device that allowed us to suspend the toy over the water. We’d demonstrate this at all the shows we were at. It vastly became a spectator favorite. There was something about Tucker snatching that toy that raised the roof off of coliseums across the country.

Shadd Field, of DockDogs, contacted me with the idea of making this a competition. A few conversations and some strategy and next thing you know “Extreme Vertical” was born. We were able to work with the folks at ESPN and were able to make it an event at the 2005 ESPN Great Outdoor Games in Orlando, FL. But first, Shadd and I both agreed that we had to somehow qualify dogs for the Games so we made this another discipline at DockDogs events. The inaugural event would be the 2005 Western Regional Championships in Redmond, WA. Tucker and I had to qualify just like all the others. So, we flew to Redmond to take on the challenge. Tucker won that event allowing him to, not only set the first E.V. record, but claim the title of first ever E.V. champion. This was quite an honor for a dog that actually invented the sport.

In July of 2005 Tucker, now just over 9 years old, competed in the one and only E.V. event for the ESPN Great Outdoor Games. At that time ESPN titled it “The Launch”. A power house Chocolate Labrador from the east coast name Nestle won that event, but Tucker put on an awesome show and was proud to represent a sport that he played for so many years and brought to the game.

Tucker’s 10 year dock jumping career allowed him to compete in 5 ESPN Great Outdoor Games, 6 DockDogs National Championships, and a DockDogs World Championship. He jumped his personal best in Extreme Vertical of 6’10”. He jumped his personal best in Big Air of 23’ 4” all in August of 2009 at the young age of 9 ˝ years old.  He jumped in practically every state and Canada. Never once did he falter, never once did he baulk. And as a result he earned several DockDogs certificates and awards. Tucker earned his Master Jumper certificate as his Top Gun certificate. In 2004 he was awarded the DockDogs Dog of the Year and was inducted in to the DockDogs Hall Of Fame. In 2005 was awarded the Gracie Award which at that time was the Top Ranked Veteran dog award.

Tuckers last competitive event was the 10th anniversary DockDogs Nationals in 2009 in Mason, OH. I was honored to be the inaugural winner of the prestigious Global Recognition award at the formal banquet that evening, an award that I dedicate to my best friend of 14 years.

Tucker may not have been the Biggest Jumping dog to play the game, but he had the heart the size Minnesota. He always gave me his best and he always enjoyed himself while giving it. He was a dog that just loved getting up on the dock so he could put on a show for the spectators. 

Tucker was laid to rest in March of 2010. That was the most difficult time of my entire life. Tucker has a special memory display case at the Dropik house where we can always reflect on the very special life he gave us. Tucker has always been and will continue to my inspiration where ever the next ventures take me. I’m the luckiest guy in the entire world to have had Tucker in my life.  Who loves you more than me buddy?