A Year Without

It’s past the one-year anniversary since I last posted here, which is not entirely surprising given the complexity of the last year, but still, a bit hard to believe. There was a time when I devoured nothing but agility content—videos, blogs, training journals, and more, my thoughts about training and what was coming next were a constant propeller forward. Until, of course, the world for all of us, in different ways, tilted off its axis.

Over the last year I’ve maintained some level of agility, though it mostly consisted of half-hearted training sessions, an occasional show (when I could feel safe to actually attend), and close to no planning for the remainder of the year. I was asked at the end of 2019 to be the assistant coach for the AKC World Team—an honor I’d never really imagined—but almost as quickly as I grew excited and began writing up plans, the possibility of Worlds happening at all fizzled out. There was some shame at being disappointed in a thing that was by all intents a luxury and unnecessary amidst so much global panic and pain, but still, the loss of what wouldn’t happen persisted.

What we grow accustomed to so quickly never ceases to astonish me. A COVID lifestyle picked up within weeks of being thrown into our new orbit. My work (and Joe’s) turned fully remote, offering flexibility I’ve never had before, kindness and stability from a massive global company that also left me feeling, again, shamed knowing how many I loved and knew struggled. We stayed home, we bought countless masks, endlessly sanitized surfaces, obsessively watched the news, until we slipped into a routine day in and day out that became a new normal. What at first felt claustrophobic and limiting gave way to creativity and rediscovery.

Focus shifted away from agility. It was not like years past where I would have taken the extra time as an opportunity to drill new skills, train new things, or prepare for what may come (whenever it may come). Instead, we went back to some basics. There was agility, sure, but it was simple—there was no pressure to prepare for an event, for a show, for a qualifying run at all. Bolt quietly slipped into retirement without the stress and grief of a “final run”. I entered each training session with a lightness that was new and relieving. Not that it didn’t matter (another argument for another day), but that there were no inherent requirements for the training. I did it, and conversely didn’t do it, when I felt like it. Slowly, I began choosing things other than agility more and more until agility became far less important than it has before.

It’s a hard thing to refocus when you’ve been maniacally attached to a single goal for so long. Almost as if it’s a betrayal to the thing you’ve centered your life around. I’ve prided myself for a long time on my own tenacity—it’s one thing I could always count on, this never-give-up attitude. Agility has given me so much and so stepping away, even if not completely, first felt like quitting. Like failure. That’s not true, though. Stepping back so other things have a chance to come in isn’t quitting, it’s merely making space. I spent most of last year so focused on what I was going without—without travel, without friends, without, yes, agility—that for a while I didn’t see the positives it brought with it.

I chose to hike more in 2020, to travel within the confines of New England, abiding by quarantine and state-by-state regulations, choosing to tent camp more often than a hotel, loving the new-found freedom that it offered. Joe and I (and the dogs) visited each state in the region for some time, exploring things close to home that over the years I have neglected to fully appreciate. I picked books up again. If you knew me when I was younger, you’d know that an avid reader wasn’t a fair description. I was an insatiable reader. Reading at every moment and interval afforded to me, even if it was at my own detriment (like persisting during long car rides and occasionally making the driver frantically pull off to the side of the road so I could express just how truly motion sick I can become). I wrote again (not here, obviously). Writing fiction, short stories, is something I haven’t practiced since graduate school ended some long seven years ago. I wrote a story I was proud enough to share with Real Literary Journals (proper noun) and while each has handedly given me a rejection, one wrote back a personal note—a quick commentary about what they liked about my story, they told me they were impressed with my writing, that they wanted to see more. Hardly a rejection in the scheme of things. It’s given me a lift I haven’t felt in some time, to pursue something different, something else that also deserved to have some space, some focus that I haven’t given it.

The coming year is still marked with asterisks. I’ve been asked again to step in as assistant coach for the team but for an event that may again not happen, or, might with many regulations, or might with a new date, or, or (you get the point). I’ve continued to train Seeker, learning to love just the simplicity of watching his brain work, to admire his courage and his own tenacity to try and try again, even when it’s difficult for him. I’ve purchased a backpacking pack that I’ve already stuffed to the gills with supplies for eventual overnight hiking trips, a new venture that both excites and terrifies me a bit (what if there are bears? There will likely be a bear at some point, right?).

In many ways, it’ll be another year without, but not in the same sense. An approach to agility without the pressure. The love of the game without expectations. Taking the time to explore new things outside of this sport without guilt or shame. Sending off my writing without reservation.

Trusting that I can do new things without the fear of failing.

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