Not giving up

I’ve had a song on my running playlist for the last couple years that I’ve thought of as “Seeker’s Success Song.”  Whenever it would come on, I envisioned using it for a montage-like video chronicling our journey through ETO together. I pictured the early takeoffs improving over time as I managed to develop a handling system that would work for him, defying the odds as we competed nationally and stood on podiums together. The resounding theme of the song is not giving up (“I’m not giving up/ Even when no one else believes/ I’m not going down that easily”) and I fiercely prescribed that to our time together. We would persevere. I wouldn’t give up on him.

I’m not a quitter.

I may be saying that more for my benefit than yours, but there it is. It’s a phrase I’ve been repeating for some time to myself, attempting to believe it. But why? Why is quitting such a negative thing anyway? Why have I created a reality where stepping back or away—for whatever indeterminant amount of time—is considered a failure? It’s possible that the things that once brought us so much joy and fulfillment stop doing just that. We should adapt with change, let our priorities shift when needed, and sometimes reassessing is the healthiest option. This hasn’t been a single explosive moment of realization for me, but a build-up of many months (and some years at this point) of a slow burn.

If I step away from agility, who am I? Am I more than those accomplishments and this time I’ve spent dedicated to the sport? After all, we are not defined by a single thing, right?

The last year and a half has opened up more space than I’ve had in close to 20 years to explore and try new things. At the height of my agility career with Bolt, I wouldn’t take away the time to do some of the things I wanted to do (non-agility travel, non-dog hikes, writing, backpacking) in the pursuit of trial weekends, seminars, or training. And at the time, it’s how I wanted things. It brought so much joy to me to focus my energy into the sport, to relentlessly pursue a goal and the kind of success I had dreamed of for so long, that the sacrifices were beyond worth it. But when those things started to soften, and especially when agility stopped offering the same kind of positive reinforcement it had before, I found more joy in doing other things. It felt like an opportunity that I wanted to seize. So I did.

I’m not a quitter.

But I don’t find joy in watching Seek struggling to gauge lines, fall, crash into jumps, or stumble up pieces of equipment. I don’t find it rewarding to enter the ring afraid of what may happen to him outside of my control. I don’t want to risk his well-being. Over the last two months, I’ve been rehabilitating Bolt from a complete CCL (dog-equivalent to an ACL) tear and subsequent surgery. An injury that happened while I offered him a few lowered jumps at class. It’s not something I’ve talked a lot about because I couldn’t fully express what it meant and the impact it’s had on my already strained relationship with the sport. Injuries can happen, that’s a fact of any competitive sport, and it’s a risk we all assume for ourselves and our dogs in agility.  

But for me, in this space, it was more than I could accept.

I’m not giving up on Seeker, though it may take some time for me to believe that. I’m prioritizing him. I will find things that he can be more successful in while making agility, to whatever extent we play, if we play, safe. I love watching teams compete in agility, I love coaching, and I’m looking forward to being part of Team USA in 2022 in a new way—with different perspectives. I have no plans for a next dog at this point—I want to enjoy the two I have, to keep them healthy and whole. For the first time two decades, I don’t have a plan for my future as an agility competitor.

I do have plans for new adventures and spaces I want to explore more. I want to write (and be published). I want to push myself outside what’s comfortable. I want to become a thru-hiker (to some extent), spending time outside and connecting to the world in a new way. Backpacking this year has taught me so much already: how to appreciate the smallest things, to live more simply, to know that I can do difficult things and come out on the other side better for it.

So no, I’m not giving up, but I’m finding a new way forward. And I’m excited to see what it brings.