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Freedom Festival Brings Dock Dog Diving & Sand In The City

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (KGAN/KFXA) - On Friday, one of the biggest celebrations in Cedar Rapids, The Freedom Festival, will begin its 30th year.

One of the kick-off events brought together people and their furry friends from all over the Corridor and the United States. The Cedar Rapids Fire Department pitched in on Friday to fill the pool for the popular Dock Dogs competition. Kirkwood Community College is hosting the 2013 Midwest Regional Championships all weekend. It took about a half-hour and more than 26,000 gallons of water to get things ready.

Yet, for one Anamosa man, the event is the culmination of years of hard work. His black lab, Prince, is now the number one ranked dock dog in Iowa. While Prince is only two-years old, he’s been the light at the end of a very dark tunnel for his handler, Chris Kenney.

Choking back tears, Kenney explained, "He's just become by buddy, he'd do anything for me. Anything, he does whatever I want," Kenney said.

Kenney’s raw emotion comes from years of struggle. He’s a three year survivor of Leukemia.

Prince was his first purchase after beating the disease.

"I saved enough money, and he was my reward for that," Kenney said.

Now man and dog are hoping to qualify for the world championships later this year in Dubuque. The competition consists of three main events. Big Air shows how far a dog can jump. Extreme Vertical shows how high a dog can jump and speed retrieve shows how fast they can go. Iron Dog is a combination of all three events. For each event, there are different categories ranging from novice on up.

While handlers and their dogs prepared to take a leap at Kirkwood on Thursday, three dump trucks full of sand were piled next to Newbo City Market for the portion of the Freedom Festival known as Sand In the City.

On Friday, two veteran teams will start putting together elaborate sand castles. On Saturday, a team of sand sculpting experts will even make a sculpture of the Freedom Festival symbol.

"It’s a bunch of local people in the community coming out here and showing off their sand sculpting skills," Brandon Busbee with the Freedom Festival said.

The Freedom Festival organizers also worked with a group of retired Rockwell Collins engineers to create a sandbox outside Newbo City Market. It is a planned attraction for children during the Freedom Festival. Plus, the sandbox will stick around for visitors to enjoy for years to come.

While children’s giggles will surely fill the sandbox, back at Kirkwood, excited yips will fill the air.

"We drove in today and he was quiet, docile in the back of the truck, we pulled down there, he saw the pool and he lit up like a Christmas tree," Dock Dogs competitor, Willie Stone from Jefferson City Missouri said of his dog.

For handlers, like Kenney, the thrill of a Dock Dogs competition goes far beyond the leap. He also brings bracelets to each of his competitions. They say "Team Leap" and the donations he receives go toward helping those with leukemia. Recently, while in Minot, North Dakota, Kenney made nearly $400 and ran out of bands.

"They said, ‘I don’t care, that’s fine, just take the money, we know it’s going to a good cause!’" Kenney said.

When he was sick, Kenney learned about the extra costs involved in getting well.

He spent 31 days at the University of Iowa.

"Some of the big expenses besides your regular insurance things at the University are parking and meals and housing for your family members, and I’ve been trying for three years to figure out a way to give back," Kenney said.

Kenney explained that while he was ill, people he worked with, people from church and his friends helped raise $12,000 to help him pay his bills. He hopes his bands will help do the same for someone else.

It’s just an extra bonus to an already wonderful day.

"He always gives me a good lick on the head when he's done, and makes me really happy," Kenney said

To learn more about the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival events, click here.


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