Swallowed up

This time last year (this exact day, in fact) I wrote about patience. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve been able to write because it was the realization of so much time and unwillingness to give up. I hadn’t been thinking about how different patience could be– and the persistence so intricately tied to it. About how sometimes being patient would mean giving up other dreams for the big one; how it may mean finding other ways to occupy your time when you can’t do the only thing you truly want; how sometimes patience isn’t just necessary, but the only thing you can have.

When I first realized Bolt was injured in the fall, actually injured, and that it wouldn’t be a rest-two-weeks-and-go-right-back scenario, I felt defeated. We had just come back from the ultimate dream of AWC, there were plans scribbled on my calendar, training goals, and trips with friends to events. And then, like that, there wasn’t. I was fortunate that the injury was mild, but yet, I was afraid. Afraid to do the wrong thing, to return too quickly, to be too sad about it, to feel too relieved. I was told many times how much worse it could be which, while true, did nothing to ease the ache that swelled and became a reality for three months. It certainly didn’t ease the fear that replaced the aching when we returned to the sport. It only minimized the reality for us.

There is much pressure on us to do the right things for our dogs, and for very good reason: we are advocates for those who do not have a voice. It is on us to watch for the slightest signs, to detect the faintest of changes, to wait for them to tell us– to be patient with them. We must listen with our whole hearts, and especially to that tiny, tingling in the pits of our stomachs. I spent a lot of time blaming myself for letting it happen, for not being attentive enough, for not doing more. For a while, I blamed agility and tried to push back the feelings of the thing I love seeming to betray me. But it wasn’t agility’s fault, really, nor was it mine. It was a thing that happened and a thing that required a bit of patience to resolve.

If I had listened to some, Bolt and I would have returned to agility in November– we may have even made EO tryouts as we planned. But something told me to wait, to be patient, and to prioritize. I don’t for a moment regret those long sixteen weeks– or the subsequent 8 it took to fully return to agility. Because, it was worth it. Because it worked. But it also came at the cost of much self-doubt.

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The balance of trusting our instincts is not easy. Many times I questioned if I was truly seeing something, feeling something, or if I had spun myself up into believing something that was no longer there.

That’s what life has felt like these last few months, a delicate scale: on one side, normalcy and bravery and agility; on the other, worry and fear and the overwhelming desire to crawl up and hide. I thought the latter would end faster after so many months, but it’s still here. It’s something I’m learning to live with and realizing it ebbs and flows– a little gentler and a little more quietly lately. Only swinging back fully on rare occasions (times of stress, I’m realizing: no coincidence there). Some days and weeks I forget to check for soreness, watchful eyes no longer staring at strides and where his weight is shifting; while other days I fight the urge to compulsive flex and stretch his toes and shoulders.

(I repeat “he’s fine” a lot to myself these days.)

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When I last wrote it followed Nationals. An event that most certainly did not go as planned– an event where this worry was in full-fledged panic mode. But it had been a catalyst for me. A place to learn how to pick up and be brave when turning and hiding was no longer an option. It pushed me into the next month leading up to FCI tryouts with determination, courage, and, something I’d missed the most– a dream. In comparison, it wasn’t a lot of preparation for the event. In previous years I’ve had the better of six months of running courses, and working on skills and sequences before WTT– not six weeks. We’d trial more than 3 days outside of Nationals. I would have done more jump work, more pole entries, more contact reinforcement– but, time didn’t allow for it, nor did the fear that still bubbled up, telling me not to do too much, not to drill, to stop. My expectations for the event were mixed. I didn’t feel as confident as I had in past years and I was unsure about some of the skills we’d be presented with. But, we were there, I was filled to the brim with happiness to be there with him, to try.

And yes, to hope.

Our runs came and went quickly. We stood on the podium after round one– a second place run that helped to shake off dust and nerves. We went on the rest of the weekend with minor faults, a bar, a spin, a teeter call– with just one E on difficult courses, ones we had just started practicing that month. It had been our best tryout event ever. And yet, we were in a sea of other teams who were incredible, who were fast, who were, for all intents and purposes, more-prepared. There was a whirlwind of hugs and goodbyes and a few tears and then, like that, it was over. What followed was the painful silence of waiting, the constant questions and analysis, and lots of thinking. I didn’t sleep for the first week after– instead, I relived our runs over and over, not at all disappointed in how we’d done. It was like an injection of liquid bravery watching them. We began tackling courses more aggressively, running like we used to run, and actually training again. In that time we were named to the shortlist and that dream came rushing back, intense and persistently wanting to be felt. In the days that followed, I let it swallow me whole again.

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And then, quite suddenly, it was May 15. A message was sent to tryouts group that phone calls would be made that day. My phone immediately buzzed with texts full of questions and theories that I couldn’t entirely answer while my stomach knotted and my heart rate picked up pace. I waited, phone nervously clutched in hand compelling it to ring, but convincing myself it wouldn’t– it was like reliving the same day in May 2016.

And yet, it rang.

Like that, in a moment, the year changed.

So here we are. In a different place than last year– but a better one in many ways. Better because of our patience over the winter, because of the people who helped us find bravery and strength in that time. Better because I’ve learned how to listen in new ways, not only to my dog, but to myself.

We’ll go into the second part of this year like we came into it: with courage in our hearts and the need to run burning in our legs, swallowed up fully by this incredible, unstoppable dream.