ESPN2: Nike's canine legacy of just doing it

  • This episode of "Mack's Super Retriever Series" re-airs Thursday, May 5,
    at 5:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2.

    A few years back, athletic-shoemaking giant Nike coined the marketing phrase, "Just do it."

    And for seven good years, a female yellow Lab owned by Jerry Day and bearing the name of Nike did just that in the world of retrievers, sporting-dog trials and hunting.

    Nike, who recently was diagnosed with an inoperable cancerous tumor and had to be put down by her owner in the "cruelest kindness," will be the subject of a fitting tribute this Sporting Dog Sunday as "Mack's Super Retriever Series" airs from Loudoun County, Va., on ESPN2 at 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. ET.

    While perhaps not the household name that Day's legendary yellow Lab Super Sue was among sporting-dog enthusiasts, Nike was well on her way to such championship status.

    That's due in part to the fact that Super Sue was Nike's mother. But it also was due in considerable part to this Lab's own deep, driving hunger to retrieve and to retrieve well.

    Already the winner of a Super Retriever Series qualifying event last year and a subsequent bronze medal at the ESPN Great Outdoor Games, Nike wasn't far from achieving "Field Champion" and "Amateur Field Champion" titles at the time of her death, according to Day.

    "She was right in her prime," Day said.

    Unfortunately, this emerging champion was cut down in that prime by a tumor that had grown to the size of a softball inside her chest cavity by the time it was discovered.

    The growth was soon diagnosed inoperable by veterinarians. Day had his prodigious Lab put to sleep on April 20, just days after her final Super Retriever Series competition in Virginia.

    Day believes Nike had a champion's heart.

    "We get out and run our dogs and do these things because they are satisfying to us," he said. "But with Nike, that was her love.

    "That's what really breaks my heart. While we didn't really know it, she was as sick as could be up in Virginia and she was running her heart out."

    But it wasn't just the act of competing in retriever trials and competitions that Nike loved.

    She also carried a deep passion for the pure act of retrieving game.

    "She loved to hunt, that was her first love," Day said. "We'd go run trials and she was ready to go and would give me everything she had.

    "But when she saw that shotgun come out, she would start howling and whining like, 'Come on, let's go!'"

    As seems apparent, Nike's loss has proven profound for Day and his wife, Marilyn Jean.

    Buried on their Georgia farm not far from where Super Sue will one day rest, Jerry Day admits that hardly an hour has gone by without sad remembrances of his departed canine friend.

    While acknowledging that not everyone understands the deep bonds that exist between a trainer and a sporting dog, Day remind outsiders that he spent a sizable portion of each day with Nike in training, handling, competition or hunting activities.

    "It was a close bond that we had together," Day said. "I'll always remember that. I loved her and she loved me and I respected her and she respected me."

    One keen observer of that love and respect between Day and Nike — or a number of other retriever handlers and their sporting dogs, for that matter — is "Mack's Super Retriever Series" producer Shannon Nardi.

    If the loss of Nike has been hard on Day, it has also been difficult on many other trainers and observers of the close-knit competitive sporting dog family.

    "I looked at her last run in the Super Retriever Series and it just broke my heart," Nardi said. "They were such a neat pair and they were always there.

    "She'll be missed."

    Nardi is herself a recent convert to the world of sporting dogs. As such, she can begin to understand Day's pain over having to put Nike down.

    And it's not just because her job sends her to cover retrieving exploits from one end of the continent to the other.

    "Five years ago, I had no idea what a retriever trial was," Nardi said. "But I became very interested in it when I saw it.

    "I've got my own dog that I'm training now and I've become very close to that dog. You get very close and there's a bond that's hard to explain."

    That deep bond between a sporting dog owner and the canine is one reason Nardi felt like she had to pay tribute to Day and his prodigious Lab on this weekend's "Super Retriever Series" episode.

    Another was Day's sheer impact and contribution to ESPN Outdoors' sporting-dog competitions in recent years.

    "I kind of look at him as the 'godfather' of our Super Retriever Series," Nardi said. "He's always there throughout the duration.

    "I knew that I had to do something special for the both of them. I knew how it would affect Jerry and I figured that the Super Retriever Series kind of owed him."

    What will Day do in the aftermath of his canine loss?

    For starters, the 65-year-old father of two and grandfather of three has an important meeting to attend to this weekend.

    "I'm taking my 7-year-old grandson fishing on Saturday," Day said. "Instead of dog training, I'm going fishing and I'm going to be a grandpa."

    But soon enough he'll be competing again with another one of the talented Lab's in his kennel, like Grace or Birdy.

    And someday in the not so distant future, with Super Sue's yellow Lab grandson Cotton waiting in the wings; Day will be back once again at the line of a sporting-dog competition … no doubt with thoughts of Nike not far from his mind.

  • This episode of "Mack's Super Retriever Series" re-airs Thursday, May 5,
    at 5:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2.