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My own personal World Champion...

Last year, if anyone would have told Beth Rachlis that in August 2017 she would be sitting in 34c heat, in the middle of rural Austria and about to run her dog Izzie in an international agility world championship competition, she would have laughed at you! After all, Izzie was a young, petrified rescue collie who would hide under a van or run away if she heard a dog barking. But that's what happened. She and Izzie (MorgansR Swizzie Rascal)) were accepted to be a member of Team UK at the ParAgility World Championships (PAWC).

Izzie and I compete year-round in the UK. The 2017 IMCA /PAWC Championships were being hosted in Austria. This was going to be very different to our normal weekly competitions in this country. This was an international event with some of the best para handlers from across Europe. I figured I had nothing to lose.

The competition is divided into two parts International Mix & Breed Championship Agility (IMCA) for able-bodied handlers and the Par Agility World Championship (PAWC) for handlers with disabilities. It is open to all sizes and breeds. Dogs do not need to be a pedigree to take part in either competition. In total, last year there were over 300 dogs within the 15 countries represented.

The PAWC event is the ONLY international agility championship for handlers who have a disability or other mobility problems. Competitors are divided into seven groups depending upon their ability, such as wheelchair users, those with severely restricted mobility, hearing or sight issues or hidden disabilities that affect their movement around a course. PAWC competitors compete against others from the same category regardless of the dog's size. The groups are assessed and assigned by an independent international organising board who determine each handler's eligibility.

I don't like to think of myself having a disability. I do have kidney failure symptoms as much as I try to deny it. There is the chronic fatigue, headaches, nausea, breathlessness, and memory loss - all things that make it harder for me to compete 'equally' against able-bodied handlers. I can run - well, sort of! I'm active and independent. Once I saw that there was a category for people like me who don't have physical disabilities such as lost limbs, I decided I might as well apply to the International Board to see if I would qualify.

And I did.

Dream on...
After two full days of travelling on a coach with 30 dogs, we arrived in Austria. It was at this stage I began to worry. Would that scared little dog I had adopted three years ago come back? How would she react to such a strange and pressured environment? How would I handle the environment?

The day before the competition started, we had a practice session. Izzie seemed oblivious to the importance of what we were doing, where she was or what it meant. All she saw was the agility equipment, dogs running and she was so excited. She wanted to get in the ring and play agility.

This was a brilliant feeling and, by the time our turn came to practice in the ring, she was wild! Running everywhere, barely listening, but having an amazing time. At the time, I remember thinking 'Now, I just need to capture her excitement, bottle it and not let my own nerves get in the way of us doing well on the first day of competition tomorrow.'

The next day we had our first of three runs. My nerves were back in full force. I was shaking, and I knew that there were only 21 dogs before it would be us. I was the first person from Team UK to run and the whole team was there watching and cheering for me. I hoped we would set a good round in to spur the rest of the team on.

We got halfway around the course before our first error where she popped out of the weaves. She had seen a tunnel and was very excited about it.

'That's fine,' I thought. I know what to do as this does happen when competing in the UK. 'At least we haven't been eliminated yet,' I thought.

So I sent her back through the weaves. Then it was time for the tunnel, and then we had to make a sharp left over a jump. I started running to the jump, calling her, IZZIE LEFT, LEFT. She started heading my way, she's going to come over this jump. Great! Then the jump straight ahead of her caught her eye, and in a flash, she took the wrong jump! Oh no, an elimination. But then the crowd started clapping and cheering, and, you knew that everyone was so supportive elimination or not. We finished our run, and then gave her the biggest cuddle and a handful of sausages.

We may have been eliminated, but she was so happy. She was amazing and did everything I asked - just that pesky jump after the tunnel got in her way!

I was then able to relax for the rest of the day as the PAWC competitors only have one class per day. There were a lot of eliminations during the course of the day in both IMCA & PAWC as you never really know what a dog will do on the day!

We had two more days competitions to do, and we kept it together (mostly). We had 5f on each, but, we didn't get eliminated. I was still in a nervous panic for every run, but Izzie was having a blast and, that is what it is really about.

On the final day, the scores from all three runs were totalled up, and I am proud to say we weren't last! To be honest, that was our goal to not get three eliminations, and not to come last. Some of the people competing have been doing it for years and have lots of experience. Izzie is my first real agility dog and we had only been competing a year. I was overjoyed to come 17th out of 25 hopefully showing real promise for future years. The faults we had could easily be rectified with more practice and remembering to tell Izzie what the next obstacle is earlier.

The trip was amazing
As part of the IMCA/PAWC team, I met people from all over the UK. My Para team-mates included those with cystic fibrosis, dystonia, hip replacements and someone who had spinal and neck injuries from a life changing car accident. Together, along with the IMCA team, we all bonded and represented the UK.

Overall the experience, gave both myself and Izzie confidence, and I met a great group of people on the team whom I was able to educate about kidney failure. We spoke about dialysis - people were shocked when they found out how frequently it needs to happen - and about the importance of letting your family know that you wish to be an organ donor.

Back in the UK, Izzie continues to amaze me. She's enjoying her agility more and more and continues to try and attempt to teach me that early obstacle cueing is of the utmost importance otherwise, she will just continue straight and do whatever obstacle she sees! Tunnels, weaves, jumps, she doesn't care. If it is there, she will take it!

The trip brought together people of all types of disabilities, and showed that we have just as much passion, skill and commitment - if not more - than able-bodied handlers.

This year, the IMCA/PAWC competition is being held in England, 23-26 August 2018 in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

For more information about PAWC, visit or email Linda Croxford on . Deadline for applications to be considered for the PAWC team have to be sent by Linda to the board by 31st March 2018 so need to be with Linda no later than a week before this date.

The 2018 event will be live streamed. Hope you will either be there or watching to support us.

About the author...
Beth Rachlis
lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with her two rescue dogs. She dabbled in Agility with her eldest one and returned 18 months ago with Izzie. In 2017, her scared little rescue who preferred to go under small jumps has now won into G5 and Novice in UKA.

In her spare time, Izzie enjoys herding her pet cats, swimming and rolling in poo.

First published 12 March 2018


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