Up for the challenge

Torch seems to care only about one thing — catching flying discs.

The 3-year-old McNab Shepherd had his eyes focused on the discs his owner Kirby McIlveen had in her hands as they trained in Huntington Beach's Langenbeck Park for the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge finals next month in Missouri.

Torch's impatience was obvious, but he restrained himself and sat patiently next to his owner until she gave him the command.

As soon as the 19-year-old from Huntington Beach tossed one of the discs, Torch bolted after it, snatched it out of the air and ran back to her, ready to chase the next one.

"I say that this was what he was born to do because he pretty much doesn't care about anything else," McIlveen said. "I'll throw a ball and he'll chase it, but he'll want me to throw a Frisbee. When the Frisbee comes out, he gets crazy."

After the quick warm-up session, the two went into their five-minute routine. Torch would weave between McIlveen's legs, jump off her leg and hop onto her back, all while catching the gliding object.

"He really only took about a year to train," she said. "He actually won a world championship when he was like a year and a half old. So he was just a puppy prodigy."

But it isn't just Torch's talent that has him and his owner heading to Gray Summit, Mo., on Oct. 4. According to Todd Murnan, a judge with the Purina competition and a friend of McIlveen's, she is one of the best flying-disc handlers and well-deserving of the nickname "The Dream Crusher."

"You go to a competition and hope you and your dog pull out your A-game that day and win the competition," Murnan said. "But when Kirby shows up, she's very likely to take it home, and, therefore, your dreams are crushed."

He met McIlveen when she was 13 years old and knew that she was bound to be one of the best in the field. And as he's competed against her and watched her grow, Murnan is positive that she'll be winning more world championships in the years to come.

"You could tell, without a doubt, that that girl was going to be the future in the sport," he said. "And right now she's not only the now but also the future. That chick's got a long run ahead of her."

Though McIlveen, a student at Orange Coast College, is an up-and-coming flying-disc handler, she said she won't compete to earn a living. She would rather do it at a more leisurely pace and just have fun.

"When you do shows for a living, you have to have a lot of dogs, and it's kind of hard and it becomes your life," she said. "It's my life right now doing the competitions, but I think I just want to keep it as a hobby."

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