Updated date:

The Unsung Champions of the AKC Agility National Championship

Kristin is a dog agility instructor and competitor with 20 years in the sport.

The author's dog at the 2017 AKC Agility National Championship.

The author's dog at the 2017 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

Subtle Shifts

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.


Kristin Kaldahl (author) on April 05, 2017:

Thank you, and congrats on your new pup! You are in for a beautiful journey with your new kiddo. Do consider getting active in dog training and a dog sport. It so enriches both of your lives and the dog relationship with your dog.. Shelties are a truly wonderful breed.

Sophie Skye on April 05, 2017:

Love your Sheltie! Sorry I'm off topic ... first time poster and relatively new sheltie Mom to Sophie Skye (she's 15 weeks old

Pippinsmum on April 01, 2017:

I agree wholeheartedly!

I was one of the average teams. Our dogs all had to qualify to get there which shows training, hard work, and attending lots of trials throughout the qualifying year - the part that doesn't show at the Nationals. We all deserved to be there.

I was thrilled to attend my first Nationals though my dogs have previously qualified. I was thrilled with my dog's clear rounds and didn't view them as coming 77th out of 205 dogs but rather, looked at what were our YPS and what would the points have been had it been a real trial. We were we running our best even if we finished way down the list.

I saw handlers who expected to be in finals being totally upset by a mistake that took them out of contention and saw people with a clear run ribbon for a modest run beaming ear to ear. It's all about expectations. I didn't go there expecting to be in finals. I went there hoping have a good time running my dog to the best of our ability. My expectations were exceeded. We had a wonderful time and, like you, I was cheering on the teams who were struggling with the course or their nerves. A great experience.

And, there's one thing it's so easy to forget. These are just dogs, our dogs, doing extraordinary things - just because we've ask them!

Kristin Kaldahl (author) on March 30, 2017:

"...even the mundane is extraordinary"

I LOVE that!! Through and through a beatiful sentiment.

TivasMom on March 30, 2017:

As the owner of a very talented but slightly nutso Terv who will never make it to Nationals (or the UK equivalent) this article brought tears to my eyes and choked me up. I did not take it (as apparently others did) as a diminshment of other winning and talented dogs but simply a recognition of the dogs that made it to NAC but weren't winners of rosettes. I thank you on their part, and mine, for that recognition. I, too, would love to know the back stories of the competitors. I have no doubt that just like everyday life, even the mundane is extraordinary. Loved the essay. x

Kristin Kaldahl (author) on March 30, 2017:

Oh and may I point out that the title of this blog isn't "The Sung Heroes." It's the "Unsung Heroes." The winners have already been well sung. I think there is nothing wrong with ALSO singing out recognition for those that weren't already lauded. Apparently you disagree.

Please do not again indicate I don't care about the winners' accomplishment ore respect it.

Kristin Kaldahl (author) on March 30, 2017:


Wow. You completely don't get this blog. I never called the top-level competitors "second hat." I said they deserve their recognition, and they get it. I just said the others deserve their recognition too. I guess you think only those who run fast dogs, off breed dogs or the disabled deserve recognition. Hmmm.

As for the differences in sport in Europe and the USA, study sports culture in the two different countries. The QQ system here doesn't stem from older ladies running dogs. It is MUCH, MUCH more deeply interwoven in our sports culture starting with our Pro level teams in the NFL and NBA and working down into little league sports. Do a Google search for Socialist Theory in USA Sports. I have contemplated writing a blog on it. It's fascinating, and it's why there is the agility system here in the USA their is. It has very little to nothing to do with old women.

DogStuff on March 30, 2017:

This is the very reason why agility is SO much different in the USA than Europe. In America you just need to get your QQ and move up the ranks. In Europe, you have to win to move up. And maybe that's fine for most of America where the average AKC competitor is 50+ women. In Europe it's MUCH different, and there are a lot of competitors here who want to strive to be like Europe. Thank goodness there are venues for that! You are correct- this blog is not for me. And while I will continue to cheer for the Great Dane or the old Beagle - I will certainly also recognize the highly-competitive teams who train for speed and never consider them second hat or anything less.

Kristin Kaldahl (author) on March 29, 2017:

Cathy Neal...Thank you!!!

Kathy Hightshoe....You rock!!! A huge congrats to you for your big accomplishment. A great inspiration.

DogStuff...I used to think Nationals was about crowning a National Champion until I attended. What that certainly is one of it's purposes, there are multiple purposes of Nationals. Another of them is to celebrate the varied types of teams in agility. It is to celebrate the journey of those teams. Journeys aren't only about when things go well. They are about when things don't go well. When things are rough. When you watch the Olympics, do they only cover the winners? No. They cover the Jamaican Bobsled team. They cover Eddie the Eagle. They cover the teams that arrived from war torn countries who have no hopes of a medal because of their training, but they compete anyway. Maybe you are only inspired by the medal winners. Me? I'm inspired by the teams who struggle and will NOT win but who find themselves better humans in the attempt. And yes, I am also inspired by the winners. Agility is far, far more than a beautiful run. This is something you will learn in your agility journey. This blog simply celebrates teams who made it, and their win is in the attempt to compete. I find them inspiring. If you don't understand that, then this blog isn't for you.

Erin Knotek on March 29, 2017:

I love your post. There are so many stories to be told of the competitors and their canine partners. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Lovely article

DogStuff on March 29, 2017:

"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."

So, agility is a sport/career to some, correct? A hobby to others, yes? Let's not diminish those that train for speed and top-level competitiveness. NAC is a NATIONAL EVENT. Meaning, you have to qualify for it, and then you will be competing against the best in the country. I can tell you I cheered many teams on - but the ones who did indeed get the loudest cheers are the ones who handled the speedy dogs around the course, which can be very difficult. I truly applaud the juniors and the disabled handlers and the old dogs too.... but this is a sport to some. Do people cheer someone at the Olympics who just jogs in the 100 meter dash? They've qualified for this huge event and then end up mediocre when it comes time to shine? I don't think that can be answered here, but I don't think the super competitive teams should be any less recognized. And this is coming from someone who runs a rescue who may never get any further than Novice JWW!

Kathy Hightshoe on March 29, 2017:

Thank you for your post. Last year in Tulsa, I broke my ankle which lead me to a new doctor who wanted new screenings of everything. Which lead to a diagnosis of Breast Cancer. This year's NAC I ran while under radiation treatment. Being tired and run down, me and my boy Brio managed to rank #17 of 8" dogs while undergoing cancer treatments... I feel blessed. So happy just to attend and show off my boy!

Cheryl1952 on March 29, 2017:

Thank you for your comments. I didn't qualify for the National but did make it to the Invitational with 12 year old . We don't q very often but when we click it's beautiful. I had no hope of winning but just wanted a clean run. I have made it to the finals at the Invitational with my other breed so I understand that achievement. But the importance is working as a team at these prestigious events withe the partner you have by your side.

Cathy Neal on March 29, 2017:

To NAC 2017,

Congratulations on your win! I was there cheering you on and totally appreciate both you and your dog's natural talents as well as your many trained talents. Thank you for providing such thrills to those of us watching. I also cheered on the other teams that were more like me. I do agree with Kristin that there could have been more of that going on this year. And I have to defend her that I don't think she meant this to be an us vs. them. She wasn't trying to diminish anyone's accomplishments just wanting EVERYONE to remember to cheer on all of the teams.

However, I am disappointed that you came on her blog and criticized her anonymously. You are the big winner. If you have something to say, please show your face.

I have defended the sport of agility numerous times to people that won't get into the sport because they believe that many of the people in it are mean and overly competitive. I have to say that I did see this in a few of the responses to Kristin's post and it makes me sad.

NAC 2017 on March 29, 2017:

"teams in the middle or lower were appreciated and Champions in my book"

And this is where we are clearly different (and that's ok). I appreciate what teams do, not because of where they fall in results/rankings/levels. Many average/Lower Joe's I don't appreciate because of how they act (towards dog and others) and also some top tier I don't appreciate for the same reasons. With that note, I'm out - have a great day!

Kristin Kaldahl (author) on March 29, 2017:

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, "(and other things too if I had an hour to write LOL)." This blog was meant to be short to make a single point - that the teams in the middle or lower were appreciated and Champions in my book. IF I had put everything down to meet every team's needs, I would have included those teams that won, were in the Finals or Challengers class, those that were competitive but missed it by a hair, those that were competitive but had a bad weekend, those that didn't qualify, those that are in Open, those that are in Novice, etc. As it is, I wanted to keep the blog short to keep it readable. I figured those who had great success this last weekend already received their strokes, and they did. I was handing out strokes to the forgotten folks.

If you have read my other work (and I don't expect you to have), you will see I often Champion the cause of the disabled, handicapped, etc. in our sport. There are LOTS of blogs hailing the great or even written by the great handlers of our sport. I'm not a great handler. I'm just a competitor like the masses, and as there are few voices out there from that angle, I carry that banner. It's a good banner, I think, but it doesn't mean it's a banner that opposes the banners of the fast, furious, athletic and young. It's just a different banner.

Obviously all fair teams should get strokes. This blog was just aimed at giving the invisible their well-deserved nod. I have written other blogs that have given other "groups" their nod too.

I wish I could share with you the comments I've gotten from folks after this was published. You would see it was a needed commentary,and not a divisive one. Just one that was focused and carried a rarely seen banner.

I very much appreciate your comments, and I hope you live out loud your win. It's an amazing thing. And, please, write your own blog. Other banners can always be raised.

NAC 2017 on March 29, 2017:

I am not offended :) I think my point maybe didn't come across well. This not about me needing applause or recognition as "THE REAL WINNER". I found myself cheering loudly for MANY teams that were slower or had faults. I am not at all saying only fast dogs should feel like winners. What I am saying is that I prefer someone talk about the qualities they admire in ALL teams (fast or slow) that inspire them. What was disappointing is that numerous times you kept saying it was the average Joe. For me I'm motivated by teams that work hard, overcome obstacles without giving upon their dog, are kind to their dog, aren't selfishly driven by a million Qs at the expense of the dog, the ones where they are thrilled to step to the line and the ones that go for it (and other things too if I had an hour to write LOL). And I love to see that from ALL levels of teams. I understand you were trying to make some of the average competitors feel good. And that's great. But I would be aiming to make all of the people who have these characteristics that inspire you feel great - And not just say average Joes. There are plenty of average Joes that don't exhibit any of these things. Some are quite mean to their dogs and stomp around angry. There are plenty of top competitors that this goes for as well. By repeating over and over average Joes are the winners, you actually do create and us vs them mentality.

Kristin Kaldahl (author) on March 29, 2017:

NAC 2017 - Yes, congrats to you on your stellar accomplishment. You won. You deserve your title, victory, accomplish and accolades. I hope you are over the moon and stay over the moon for years to come. You should.

The point of my article isn't that you aren't the Champion. Obviously, you are. You have the blue and your dog is now NAC. This is awesome. When you won, the arena ROCKED with cheers. It should have. You have been lauded and applauded.

When I wrote this article, I wanted those that weren't applauded to know someone out there, even if it was just me, was inspired by their success to just step tot he start line. In the rings where I competed, I saw team after team make a mistake and leave in silence. There may have been light applause, but the crowd noise drown it out. Yet the teams that were fast got loud cheers. every time It must have been horribly discouraging for the teams that went to Nationals just to step up to the line to leave in silence. BTW, I never left in silence, although I should have. There was always kind applause for our attempts, which I greatly appreciated.

I am an average competitor. I am not great. I am not fast. Thus, I am inspired by other that are not great or fast who do their best. Yes, in my heart these teams are the Champions. Does it mean you are dirt or didn't really win the NAC? No! Does it mean I don't also applaud your win? No! But this blog isn't a blog about the winners. It's a nod to those that left NAC feeling invisible. I'm telling them they weren't. If it was only me, I saw them. I applaud them. I loved their work, and they inspired me . Whether they had 2Rs and 5Ws, they inspired me.

I don't think it's wrong of me to have personal NAC Champions in my heart. It doesn't diminish your accomplishment. You have the title, bar, ribbon, photos, memories, cheers and accolades. You're the sport's Champion. You should be. But I am letting the average or even below average Janes and Joes know that they are MY NAC Champions because they inspired me. Because they look like me. Because they pushed through without cheers and applause and still brought their game - even if it feel apart mid run. I want them to know that they weren't invisible. They were cheered, applauded and appreciated.

My appreciation of them takes nothing from your accomplishment, and it isn't an "us vs them" thing either. It's simply who I was most inspired by, and as always, I'm inspired by those that look like me - who struggle, who's body's don't work, whose dogs aren't super fast, who are somewhere in the middle or perhaps even at the end. (Yes, I almost came in dead last at one Nationals!).

There's no need for you to feel offended. You won. You deserve the win. You have the admiration of the sport.

There's nothing wrong with me pointing out that the others who weren't cheered have my admiration too.

NAC 2017 on March 29, 2017:

I am one of the winners this year. I am all for applauding great teamwork for all kinds of teams. I do it all the time. But I'm disappointed to read things like:

"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"

Can't these be talking about the same team? They are not two separate types of people. Are you saying I (and teams like me) didn't put it all on the line? That I didn't find glory in walking to the line with my dog? I don't think the things you are describing are either/or.

"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"

Should I not win my shirt and pin with pride? Did I not bring my best game to nationals this year?

"...each team deserves applause". I do not agree with this. I saw many teams (at local shows too) get pissy and mean with their dogs when faults happened. Or getting angry because they ran too slow. and I could go on and on. No, these people do not deserve applause.

Applaud people for having great sportsmanship, for working hard, bringing their best game, for putting it all on the line. But please do not say that it is the "average Jane's and Joe's" that are these things. Many top competitors are these things too. And many average competitors are not. Applaud the characteristics, not the "group" of people.

Laurie Moe on March 29, 2017:

I read your article when it first came out, and I did not take it the way the previous poster did. I thought your point was that even the slow competitors should be given applause for trying and making it to such a prestigious event. I have a disability and run a lot of distance with my dog. I think sometimes people applaud my runs just because I made it to the end of the course! LOL! Needless to say, we may never qualify for Nationals so just being there is an honor. I'm glad you pointed THAT out. And having read a lot of your articles and knowing that you would never be as "offensive" as the other poster suggests, I didn't read into it that the fast folks were somehow invalid. *sheesh* some folks are easily offended.

Kristin Kaldahl (author) on March 28, 2017:

And to the person who pointed out that my list of accomplishments includes things like Challenger's Class appearance, etc., I believe even the underdog desires to better themselves. I am for all teams. I truly apologize for the missing paragraph as it was written. I will fix that though. I feel badly that this is hurting those that did well at NAC. It was only intended to be a positive piece.

Kristin Kaldahl (author) on March 28, 2017:

Hmmm. I was wondering why I got these two comments above when I had written a paragraph saying that I wasn't diminishing the efforts and achievements of those who won, just trying to also give applause to those who were not in the "winners circle." I went back to quote that paragraph when, boom, I see it's not there. I will be adding it back in with an edit in just a few minutes. I have the original article in a Word doc, so it won't take but a cut and paste. I apologize to those who DID do well this year and earned the accolades and praise. Let me fix this.

MACHterrier on March 28, 2017:

I find it very offensive when I read the implication from your article and commenters that people who do well enough to place somehow are less valid. Or even worse, the implication that they love their dogs less. What a heartless accusation. It might make you feel better to bring down the accomplishments of other people, but it also makes you look petty and jealous.

I've been doing agility for over ten years and I see intense love and caring for the dogs of people from the "top" to the "bottom" of the sport. The speed of their dog is no measure of their love. And I've also seen plenty of everyday "heroes" who treat their dogs horribly.

If you are selectively choosing to cheer for only certain teams and dismissing other teams who you feel are less worthy, how are you any better than the people who you are criticizing?

NAC was fun for everyone on March 28, 2017:

I don't know why all of the competitors cannot be celebrated. Agility is a sport for the newbie, the steady AND the fast dogs. Competitors from all levels put their hearts on the line. Are they less valuable in your eyes because they have talented dogs?

I think it's a shame to diminish the work of ANY of the people who attended no matter how fast or how slow their dogs were.

Cookie Kemp on March 28, 2017:

Yes. Thank the volunteers! Impossible to have Nationals without those folks who volunteer to work. Some of them just love dogs and give up their free weekend so the teams can run. I know from experience that not enough competitors stop and thank the volunteers.

Valorie Lennox on March 28, 2017:

Tears in my eyes as well when I read this. So many agility competitors are the ordinary folks - the weekend warriors - who love the sport and their four-pawed partners and whose goal is to have fun together, knowing they will never make the podium. Thank you for a wonderful piece pointing out that what matters is the shared experience, not the ribbon or the placement.

I and my Sheltie are weekend warriors just ending our first year of trialing and I doubt we'll ever go to a nationals - and I care not. Nor does my happy and barky partner - she just wants to play together in any venue we can find.

Kristin Kaldahl (author) on March 28, 2017:

Thank you, Agility Pointer, for the comment. And a HUGE congrats and shout out to you for being there with a pointer and overcoming your MS to rock it at Nationals. I wish I could know the backstory of the teams competing. There so much heroism hidden behind the teams running.

Agility Pointer on March 28, 2017:

Great sentiment! As the only competitor there with a Pointer, and as someone who has MS, it is extra special to me to watch and cheer for teams that are a little out of the ordinary.