The Unsung Champions of the AKC Agility National Championship
I have just returned from the 2017 AKC Agility National Championship in Perry, GA. It's my seventh time to attend this terrific event and my 12th time to qualify for it. Each time I have attended, I have come away with the exact same thought.The real winners of the NAC (National Agility Championship) aren't the teams that won a placement or made finals.
The real winners are the everyday teams that put it all on the line knowing their glory—their triumph—is in walking to the start line at Nationals.
The Most Memorable Runs
This year, I stood with ringside with my best friend and listened to the crowd. The cheers were the loudest for teams that were fastest. I actually found this a bit sad. I found my loudest cheers were for the everyday competitor. I probably cheered loudest all weekend for an elderly man with a moderate speed, happy Sheltie who ran their hearts out with big grins on their faces. The dog knocked a bar early in the run, but the team kept running as if they were in finals. They gave it their all. It was a beautiful run. Not in the sense that it was agility perfection, but in the sense that you could see the heart of that team. And their heart screamed of love for each other, love for the sport and the thrill and pride of just being there.
I cheered loudest for them than any other team this year. In my book, this everyday duo were the Champions of the 2017 AKC Nationals.
My First Nationals
In 2007, my first Nationals to attend, my favorite team was a black poodle and her owner, who I heard through the grapevine was dying of a lung ailment. At the end of their run, the handler would collapse outside of the ring where her friend would be waiting with oxygen. It gave me chills. I heard the handler's wish was to get to Nationals before she passed away.
That team won the National Agility Championship for 2007 in my book. I don't even remember who took first place that year.
The 2010 Nationals in Tulsa
At the 2010 Nationals in Tulsa, there was an elderly lady there wearing a chemo bandana on her head. She had dark circles under her eyes, and her skin was sallow. Yet she also wore the biggest smile on her face. Her corgi walking at her side also had a big grin on his face. The lady was brimming with enthusiasm and was so excited to be able to attend. I didn't know her, but I was excited for her too. I saw them in one run. The Corgi was a moderate speed dog and an accurate, willing worker. I loved their run and the joy that exuded from the team as they worked.
For me, the winners of the 2010 NAC was this team. They had a priceless run, and I don't even remember if it was clean.
The 2009 Nationals
It was in 2009 I think where I watched a middle aged female handler who struggled moving one side of her body. I believe her dog was a sporting dog. They worked amazing distance on the course, as the handler could not run. I remember the run I watched as being clean. It was a thing of pure, white beauty and trust—a connection held together in spite of the team's handicap and the distance separating them on the course.
In 2009, the National Agility Champion in my heart was this brilliant team.
Author's 2017 AKC Nationals Music Video
It's important for all teams—those who win and those who are in the middle and even those who are last—to be applauded for their attempt. For their willingness to continue in spite of whatever obstacles assail them. Whether they go home with blue, red, green or nothing, each team deserves applause.
What concerns me is I am slowly seeing the agility community shift from lauding all competitors to ignoring the everyday competitor and focusing only on those who exhibit speed and top-level competitiveness. I used to see several disabled handlers at each Nationals. This year, I didn't see any obviously disabled handlers competing, although with so many teams, I only saw a fraction of those competing. I used to hear clapping and cheering for each team who competed, whether they ran clean or not. This year, I paid attention to the crowd noise, and unfortunately, most of the average teams got little, if any, applause. I, however, was cheering for the slowest teams, the teams that were struggling, the teams that showed heart, the teams that overcame, the teams who were there just to step to the start line at the big dance.
In my heart, you teams–the everyday Janes and Joes out their running with your best furred partner–you are the real winners. I applauded you when I watched you run this last weekend, and I applaud you now.
Wear your competitor shirts and pins with pride when you return to your home agility community. You are what makes this sport great. Thank you for bringing you best game to Nationals this year.
In my mind, you went home the winners of the 2017 Agility National Championship.
I also wish to acknowledge the National Champions that never took to the ring. Thank you to everyone who volunteered and worked at nationals this year and in the years past. I am always amazed that people will come out to volunteer at a show in which they don't get to compete. Each volunteer I meet this weekend was kind and helpful.
You deserve the NACV (National Agility Champion Volunteer) award. Thank you.