"If you would have told me 18 months ago that I would be sitting in 33°c heat in the middle of rural Austria about to run Izzie in an international agility world cup competition, I would have laughed at you.
Izzie? The young, petrified rescue collie who would hide under a van or run away if she heard a dog barking, successfully competing for Team UK? Dream on! But, it did happen. This past August I was lucky to be accepted and to represent Team UK at the IMCA/PAWC competition for Great Britain and it was due to the generosity of Kidney Care UK and my local Kidney Patient Association that I was able to attend.
Agility is an obstacle course for dogs – you and your dog have to successfully navigate a series of about 18 obstacles in the quickest time and with the least amount of errors. Obstacles include jumps, tunnels, slalom poles, and things for the dog to run over. Every course is different and you only find out what order the obstacles are in about 15 minutes before it is your turn to go.
Throughout the year there are local competitions, but, this in Austria, was different. This was an international event, with some of the best handlers from across the world. The competition was divided into two parts – the IMCA part (International Mix and Breed Competition Agility) for able bodied handlers, and the PAWC (Paragility World Cup) for handlers with disabilities. In total, there were 300 dogs, and 16 countries represented. I don’t like to think of myself having a disability. I can run (well, sort of!), I’m active and I’m independent. But, I do have kidney failure and the idea of representing the UK was appealing; plus I knew there was a category for people who don’t have physical disabilities.
On the final day, the scores from all three runs were toted up, and….well, we weren’t last! To be honest, that was our goal – to not get three eliminations, and to not come last. Some of the people competing have been doing it for years and have lots of experience. Izzie is my first agility dog and we had only been competing a year. I was overjoyed to come 17th out of 25 – we had shown real promise. The trip was amazing. It gave me confidence, gave Izzie confidence, and I met a great group of people. I got to educate my team members and international competitors about kidney failure. We spoke about dialysis (people were shocked when they found out how frequently it needs to happen!) and about the importance of letting your family know that you wish to be an organ donor. Next year the competition is being held in England. The Team UK Captain has already asked me to apply to the International Board of next year, and has asked that I keep the dates free in my diary. Meanwhile, Izzie continues to amaze me. Following her trip abroad, she’s now had successful wins at English competitions and is enjoying her status as a World Champion (to me!)
The Kidney Care UK patient grant helped to pay for my travel and hotel costs. In addition, I gained additional funds from the local agility community to support my trip. Without a doubt, if the funding from Kidney Care UK had not been granted I would have been unable to attend. The trip brought together people of all types of disabilities, and showed that we have just as much passion, skill and commitment (if not more!) than the abled-bodied handlers. I can’t wait until next year!"
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