It started about a year ago. Instead of writing the English paper I had been putting off, I spent that October weekend waking up at 2:00 a.m. to watch the 2010 AKC/USA World Agility Team compete in Germany. Mesmerized by the competition, the dancing, the celebration, my brain started calculating. I looked up qualifications for World Team Tryouts, jump heights, shows to enter... how much time did we have?
A year ago I could only dream of making the world team with my little speckled agility partner. Revolution, also Rev, was a three year old border collie who had very little experience jumping the international 26" jump height, and I was an 18 year old handler who had very little experience running her on international agility courses. After finishing our qualifications to attend the AKC World Team Tryouts held in May, the real work began. We started practicing international coursework every chance we got. A full time student at the University of Florida, I drove the two hours south to train with friends every weekend in preparation for the AKC National Agility Championship as well as the Tryouts. There were many failures, many handling and training discoveries, and eventually, many successes, too.
To my complete and total surprise, we performed well enough to win the 26" class at the National Agility Championship in April. Going into the Tryouts with that under our belts was encouraging, and while I was cautiously hopeful, I was mostly terrified and excited. This was the event that would determine the 2011 World Team. The courses at this event were going to be some of the hardest we had seen in competition. I couldn't wait!
Competing at the 2011 World Team Tryouts was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had. We had a great weekend on paper, coming away with a first place in round three and a first place in round four, as well as third overall on Saturday and second overall on Sunday. The competition was more than results for me though - I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to watch and compete with some of the country's best dogs and handlers at this event.
For the next two weeks I played the waiting game. There are two win on spots per height class at the Tryouts, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. We were just out of reach of both spots, which meant waiting to hear who was chosen by team management after the fact.
I stared at my phone for two weeks, willing it to ring and magically tell me we had made the team. It sounds terribly silly now; I did not know how the process worked. Eventually Nancy Gyes, the team coach, emailed everyone to announce when she would be making the phone calls to the new team members. I now had a date and time to look forward to! And at that moment, time could not have moved any slower.
Eventually though, May 24th arrived. From 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Nancy would be making the calls. I think if I had stared any harder at my phone I could have made it explode from sheer mental concentration. At 11:28 it rang. I get goosebumps even now just thinking about how it felt to get the call
. We had made the team.
I was giddy about it for weeks, pinching myself every few days. We had our first team "meeting" — a conference call with all of the new team members, followed soon by our first team practice in Sumner, Washington. I thought the hard part was over; we had trained diligently all spring, performed to our very best at both the Nationals and Tryouts, and yet here I was, about to leave for the first team practice and I was shaking from the nerves. Train for three days with a group of famous
agility handlers? To say I was intimidated would be an understatement.
However, very quickly my worries were put to rest. The team was comprised mostly of handlers who had previous experience at the World Championships, and everyone was beyond supportive. By the second team practice I knew I had friends here, but it was more than that. Growing up I did not play many sports. Briefly I was on a local swim team, where I often struggled with the "team" aspect of the sport. As predominantly individual sports, swimming and dog agility never really helped me to learn the value of being a part of a team. This is something I am very grateful I was able to discover this year on the World Team. While we competed individually when we were physically out on the field, at the end of the day we competed together, as a unit. We celebrated the successes and victories of each other, we comforted each other in our failures and mistakes, we worked together on course strategy. Whether we were in different heights or the same height, we were there supporting each other through everything.
August seemed to drag on forever, but once September finally rolled around time started moving all too quickly. Is all of the veterinary paperwork filled out? What is Rev's microchip number again? Is that in blue ink? Did I have everything I was going to take to Europe? Did I have too much? Converters, adapters - what's the difference and does it matter? Panic about electronic devices... wait a second, what do you mean my hair straightener won't work in France?
Bags packed, dog ready and head spinning, on September 29th we boarded our plane and were off to compete at the 2011 Agility World Championships.
After arriving safely and finally reaching our hotel nearly 24 hours later, my dad, Rev and I began our exploration of Arras, France. Well, after we all took naps. Over the next couple of days we met up with arriving teammates and continued to discover the town. Tuesday came too soon, bringing with it our first practice. Thanks to the generosity of a local club, we had the opportunity to get our dogs on some equipment before the event. Wednesday we practiced again, and finally, on Thursday, it was time for our official practice at the show site.
Uniforms "officially" on for the first time (I may have slept in my jacket... a lot), I just remember thinking over and over, "wow, it's really happening."
The competition was unlike anything I have ever seen in dog agility. The stands were packed and the energy from the crowd was mind-blowing. After opening ceremonies on Friday, Rev and I were up first for Team USA. The event started off with Large Individual Jumping, and we were 13th in. I was nervous, but mostly I felt unfamiliar. It was a very new experience for me, having a coach walk the course with you, and take you to the line. We had a nice first run, but unfortunately we had one bar down which meant five faults. I was proud of Rev as we left the ring, but still disappointed that I caused her to knock a bar. However, as we left the ring there was our team, standing by the gate ready to pat me on the back and remind me of the good parts of the run. I won't ever forget how good that made me feel. It was okay. We made a mistake, time to shake it off and move on to the next day and our next runs.
The competition was fierce, and absolutely fantastic to be a part of. By the end of the weekend I realized that I had learned something different from all four of our runs, a very powerful experience for me as a competitor. Rev and I ended up with a fifth place in Individual Standard on Sunday, and a first place in Team Jumpers on Saturday, accomplishments I am so very proud of. One of my most unnerving moments was towards the end of the Team Jumpers class. I had gone up to sit with my parents in the stands. We had the fastest time so far, but there were many many more teams to go. Of course, towards the end of every single run, my mom would start up, "they're going to beat it, they're going to beat it... ahh they're... no! You've still got it!"
Meanwhile I was trying to talk about something else and not watch the clock.
The last team to go was an agility icon of mine, Jenny Damm and her dog Ina. I just sat there waiting, silently rooting them on while also trying to pull for me and Rev. They laid down a gorgeous run, now just to wait for the time. Seconds passed before we knew the hundredths, but we had done it, we won. Realizing we had won a class at the world championships was positively thrilling. I couldn't believe it.
The weekend flew by; our runs, teammate's runs, dancing, trading jackets, sorrow, celebration, laughing. The team was a solid one, well prepared and we did our best. Our teammates Ashley Deacon and Luka, part of the medium dog team, earned an individual gold medal on Sunday. To get to witness their world championship in person and as a part of the team was such an invigorating experience. USA team members and supporters were crying left and right, everyone was hugging everyone, we got to run around the ring in celebration of Ashley and Luka's achievement, and then we all ate french fries. It was brilliant.
And then, just like that, it was over. Even now it does not seem real (not to worry, there are pictures, it did actually happen). A year ago I had a dream of making the world team with my little speckle-faced dog. We made the team, and that is our story. Now we begin to prepare for next year, so we can try to do it all again in 2012.