American Meg McCarthy expected to be upset after FCI Worlds—a lot, actually. It was her first time at the event and the first time she had represented the USA. It was an adventure she'd been dreaming of for most of her life. She hasn't cried over it, surprisingly enough, though she's come close, probably because life elbowed in as soon as the Team landed in the form of a chair sliding on a kitchen floor.
My grandmother has been sick for some time. For those close to me, you understand this relationship well. More of a parent-child role, rather than a grandparent. She helped to raise me. We speak (spoke) on the phone daily all my adult life. Before leaving for AWC, she made me promise that no matter what happened to her, I wouldn’t leave the competition. It was a promise kept, but still, that chair. In a daze from medication and lack of sleep, she climbed on a kitchen chair last Thursday, lost her balance, and fell. I wasn’t there, but yet I imagine that sound over and over. Wood creaking against tile, a heavy thud, the sharpness of bone connecting to the floor. I don’t want to hear it, but I do.
A fall is bad for anyone over the age of 75, but specifically for those in end-stage cancer.
I was kept from most of this knowledge while we were in Spain. An attempt not to drag focus away from the competition is leaving me with a nagging sense of guilt (it’s an inherited trait, this guilt, among other things), but being back home, we have been thrust fully into it. An inescapable truth leading to the construction of a well-built wall. (That’s the other inherited trait, in case you were keeping track). I have distanced myself from this pain as well as the end of AWC as much as I can. Healthy? Maybe not. Necessary? Yes.
Walls are good at keeping tears at bay, too.
They started a little the night we returned, as I hung my uniform back in my closet, being sure to include the jersey I wore alongside it. There was a metaphor in there. About hanging things up, shutting a door. Maybe it was the jetlag and lack of sleep and the culmination of too many emotions spilling out of the week. I worried that after AWC I would feel a little emptier– and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t true. I feel sort of dug out in the center, a little raw, and a lot adrift. Imagine planning a vacation for ten years (even if you didn’t know the exact destination) and visualizing it over and over. There was so much leading up to it, so much hope and energy and imagination put into what would happen and what things could be. There were countdowns and parties and then, just like that, it’s over.
Where do you go next? What now?
I’m not entirely sure it would be possible to adequately describe what the week meant and how incredible of an experience it actually was. At one point in the weekend Maureen asked me if AWC had lived up to my expectations, and my answer was immediate and truthful: it was better.
If you’ve never been, please, please try. Add it to the bucket list even just to spectate. It is worth it, it will change your perspective on this sport, I promise.
There is an unparalleled energy in the arena which exists even when the five thousand spectators weren’t chanting from the stands. I can romanticize endlessly of how countries come together for the love of this sport and these dogs. How language barriers break down over the mutual understanding of communicating on course.
Reaching this goal was only a step. Getting to the line, laying down runs, learning what strengths we had and what more we needed to work on was invaluable. There was a worry long before we landed in Spain (I know, lots of them) that stepping to the line would prove to be a nerve-shattering experience. I feared that my mind would race as fast as my heart until the courses blurred and were forgotten. That the din of the building, both at it’s loudest and quietest, would be too much. Tori said simply as we watched, “You’re a competitor, it won’t be.”
I learned that we have a place there—that we belong, that we can thrive as competitors.
Goals evolved quickly over the weekend. The fire in me was poked every time the song “Champions” blared over the PA until it was consuming. I think many of my teammates felt this same swell of motivation. We began making plans in the stands for the coming months. I scribbled training notes in my book and wrote back a list of things I wanted to work on back home. We had mistakes on course, but they were small, manageable, fixable. Goals expanded to fill the hole leaving Zaragoza would create.
Last night, as I left my grandmother’s, I was called back in. Her neighbor was visiting, sitting at the foot of the newly-delivered hospital bed in the living room and they had been talking. She looked at me as I came back in, my grandmother, and asked for me to get my computer, to show her friend Bolt’s runs from Worlds.
“Show her how fast he is”, she said weakly, “how good.”
Fighting hot tears then (and now) with that request. To be so proud of that little dog and what we did even then. It means so much to her, more than I realized. I owe it to her to continue towards this goal.
The promise was made to not leave the competition no matter what. I think there’s more to it than just this year. There’s more to take from it. That no matter what, we will retain our competitive spirit, to fight, to work hard, to run with joy and purpose.
That’s a deeper promise I can keep.
About the author...
By the time she was 11 or 12, my aunt had started to train her Golden Retrieverss at a local facility. Meg followed her there every week (obviously) and watched, and sat in the x-pen with a group of shelties and hoped to get a chance to run. I fell in love with it, and the dogs in the class. Specifically a beautiful sable girl named Flame. By the spring I was offered the opportunity to run Flame at a local trial in novice. Uh, again, obviously. I did- she won- I took the ribbon to 7th grade show & tell and talked about it to anyone who’d listen, and probably to those who didn’t really care either.
I’m getting off topic. Short version. Right.
Thirteen years later I’m still competing in agility, though at a much higher level than I could have imagined at age twelve. My second dog, Nike, took me to the AKC Nationals, AKC world team tryouts, and on adventures through the country. He was an incredible dog to learn the sport with, but more importantly, learn how to win, lose, and grow up.
My youngest, Bolt, has brought me an already incredible journey in his young life. AKC Nationals, world team tryouts, titles, double-Q’s: always exceeding expectations. More than anything else though he’s taught me what this adventure in agility means. I have big hopes for our future together.
Currently I am teaching master level handling classes in Freetown, MA and in Hyannis, MA. I am also available for private lessons in the New England area. Seminars are in the works– Bolt and I would like to continue adventuring and meeting new people. Please feel free to contact me to schedule something.