Albert Lea man trains pet to ride the waves

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 6, 2002

On a hot summer day in Albert Lea, it is commonplace to see people water skiing. Seeing a goggle-wearing iguana do it, on the other hand, is not exactly an everyday occurrence.

But Monday afternoon, it happened on Albert Lea Lake. Bryan Gullickson of Albert Lea trained his pet iguana, Liberty, also known as Libby, to sit on a raft pulled behind a miniature remote-control motorboat controlled by his friend, John Schultheis. Gullickson’s neighbors, Trent Gorton and his five-year-old daughter Bria, designed the raft, a piece of plastic foam which can be decorated with an American flag.

&uot;You can train an iguana to do anything,&uot; said Gullickson. He said that Libby also is trained to scratch at the door to go outside in the summertime, and to use a litter box in the winter. She also comes when she is called and is allowed to roam freely through the house.

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Gullickson initially got the idea to make a raft for Libby several years ago, when he would take her to the beach and bring her into the water with him. Although a good swimmer, Libby would sometimes get tired, so Gullickson made a raft using the lid from a foam ice chest.

&uot;I couldn’t leave her on the beach, in case some beautiful gecko came along and swooned her off her claws,&uot; Gullickson joked.

Eventually the idea came to Gullickson to train Libby to water ski, so Schultheis bought a miniature boat powered by a weed-trimmer motor. Though Libby had already been trained to sit on a raft in the water, she was not accustomed to sitting on a moving object. Bria Gorton, Libby’s assistant trainer, helped Libby to prepare for it by pulling her on her raft in the Gortons’ swimming pool.

The novelty of a water skiing iguana prompted Gullickson to film a video of her unique ability, accompanied by the song &uot;Wipeout&uot; by the Surfaris. The Styx song, &uot;Come Sail Away,&uot; accompanies additional footage of Libby on her raft. He sent the tape to &uot;America’s Funniest Home Videos.&uot; If his video wins the top prize, Gullickson will win $10,000. The top prize for the year is $100,000.

Bria Gorton is happy about having trained Albert Lea’s most famous iguana. &uot;It feels good,&uot; she said.

Liberty is three feet long and seven years old &045; approximately middle-aged for her species. A South American green tree iguana, Libby is no stranger to the water. The species will jump from treetops into rivers, swimming to the bottom to avoid predators. They are capable of staying submerged for up to 15 minutes at a time.