Dang, This Hill is Steep.

“Bump”.  I can only wheeze the word as my boots stumble left to pass my buddy on the trail and command my leg muscles to crawl back out from the rock they’re hiding under.   I’m packing about a quarter of my body weight, climbing a hill that according to rules of gravity should have steps…or an elevator.  But I’ve been running hard for weeks, and this is the hike I’m going to finish in the front half of the pack.  And I do.  I drag myself over the crest of the hill, lungs heaving, legs shaking, with triumph in my eye.  My look is met by my hotshot crew foreman, who grins back at me.  He gives me a second while I revel in my own awesomeness and repress the urge to hurl on my boots…before he (gleefully) tells me to loop back down the hill to the last crew member and haul myself back up to the top.

A few years after my hotshot days, I guess we didn't stop digging to take pictures before the advent of Facebook and YouTube.

Obviously not taken on that day…no hill, and my boots are vomit-free…

My legs tell me they’ll mutiny if I take one step back down that hill.  Sensing a moment of weakness, I get a shove over the edge from behind.  I’m pretty sure it was a boot.  Up the hill, and down and back up again, until all twenty of us are standing on top together.  Again, we grin at each other, done in, but still cocky.  Until we’re ordered to drop and do 50 pushups…with our packs on.  I used a lot of not-so-nice words to get through that morning, but I did learn one thing.  I’m only beaten when I let myself think I am.  And with a kick in the butt, I’m capable of a whole lot more.

Now that I’m an agility freak, instead of a member of a fire crew, there are a lot of ways to psych yourself up mentally – positive affirmations, preparation, making promises to the bar-knocking gods…but I’ve gotta say I still prefer an old fashioned boot to the ass.  I don’t know…call me a romantic?

Classic Duncan.  "She's carrying me!  This is MORTIFYING!!"   Thanks, Randy Gaines for the picture!

“She’s carrying me! This is MORTIFYING!!”  (Duncan at his Grumpypants best)
Thanks, Randy Gaines for the picture!

There are countless ways the “Mental Game” plays into our world of agility.  Check out the all the Dog Agility Action Blogging goodness going on today here:  http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/the-mental-game/

It could have been a real uphill battle this year.  Just a year ago this week, I had my third (!!) back surgery, a spinal fusion.  Nine months ago, I debuted my baby dog, Desmond, who has proven to be made of equal parts sweet pup, steam locomotive and Tasmanian Devil.  I was filled with doubts…what if I fell?  What if Des was too fast and I ruined all his training by my miserable attempts to shuffle behind him?  What if…if…if…aliens attacked earth and stole all the critters that help make delicious cheese and ice cream???  Yeah.  Pretty damn stupid, right?  There are a lot of us out there, various-stages-of-broken agility lovers, trying to get back to the dogs, friends and sport we adore.  The physical return is one thing, but how do we also battle back mentally?

When I looked at Des’s not-even-started career stretching ahead of us, I’d begin to panic.  But when I took him to the field, his enthusiasm to be playing with me was something I couldn’t deny.  He didn’t care I wasn’t running, or even walking in straight lines.  Or that I wasn’t cuing much more than weird minimalist disco moves.  He was playing with his mama, his favorite thing in the world, and it didn’t matter that she wasn’t moving right…it mattered that we were out there together.  Playing.  How on earth could I stay inside feeling sorry for myself in the face of that complete, unabashed JOY?  Yeah, pity party, party of one…check please!  Thanks for the kick in the butt, buddy!

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From that day forward, I worked to shift my mental focus off of what I couldn’t do, and back to what I was still able to do, no matter HOW slowly.  I was back out slogging up that hill, willing myself to take each step forward yet again.  Smaller steps, yes, but if I accepted that fact and moved on, each step was a bit easier than the last.

And yeah, it wasn’t all forward progress.  I’d take three steps forward, and slide back a few feet, a few months (or a few pounds!)  On course, Des was running like a brilliant maniac, and always with joy.  As for me?  His handler was not always so brilliant, but Des was having fun, so it didn’t matter.  If I screwed him up, he was not going to know.  I vowed to protect his joy.

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And there it was.  A big, shiny lesson…the Q didn’t matter a bit.  Holy crap, all those folks who preached that “the Q doesn’t matter” weren’t blowing smoke!  Was I having fun?  Heck yeah!  Was my boy having fun with me?  —> I have the bite marks to prove it!  Was I able to let the mistakes slide and let him learn that competing was even more fun as in our back yard?  As my ability to move improved, was I handling him like I wanted to, instead of how I thought I could safely get him around the course?  When you’re faced with the thought of not getting to play this game at all anymore, worrying over the little stuff suddenly becomes secondary to the joy of simply running.

I’m not gonna lie, we zero just as much as we hero, but I wasn’t leaving the course disappointed, either.  We’ve had some spectacular train wrecks, and I’ve smiled remembering those moments just as much as the runs where he doesn’t set a paw wrong. And strangely enough, the less I stress about failure, the more I’m able to focus in the moment and keep that locomotive on the rails.  Hero, indeed!

And he sticks the landing!!   Photo by Jan Skurzynski, judge and photographer extraordinaire!

And he sticks the landing!!
Photo by Jan Skurzynski, judge, photographer and renaissance woman extraordinaire.

My biggest challenge have been the nasty little doubts that live in my own head.  No matter what your goals… to run with your pups, to make that front cross, earn a particular title, make a world team or simply keep the shiny side up, it’s that little voice says “yeah, but…”  To which I make a concentrated effort to tell my inner voice “yeah but…shut the hell up.”  If the voice says I can’t make a cross, yet I think I can and should, I weigh my options, and then commit to the cross if I decide it’s worth the risk. I may not always DO, but I’m gonna always TRY.  Life is TOO short to spend much time on worry, doubt and the ‘what ifs’.  I for one, would rather be out there, running.  If something happens, I’ll deal with it.  Maybe after a sucking down a dozen sugar cookies and feeling sorry for myself, but then I’ll get annoyed, kick myself in the butt and get on with it.  Surgeries, setbacks or pushups…just one thing at a time.  Yep, the hill is steep.  Guess we’d better get going, right?

Surgery…getting screwed.  Same difference?

I’ve been screwed!

I’m definitely a believer in the PPPPPP school of thought:  Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.   Prepare yourself and your dog thoroughly.  Put in the time together to build solid skills, trust and teamwork.  Use course walkthroughs to sort through handling ideas to find the most efficient plan, and then visualize that plan, verbals and cues until it’s no longer a conscious thought, but a memorized movement.  If you push the boundaries and it doesn’t work, go home, work on it, then TRY it again, don’t beat yourself up at a time and place where you can’t take steps to improve.  Take care of your teammate particularly in the moments before you step into the ring.  Then step to the line, take a breath, walk out with confidence.  Oh, and make sure your pants won’t fall down.

Most of all, if you’re a beginner or rock star, able bodied or broken, believe in yourself, your teammate and your skills…no matter freaking what.

Gardens blow.  Agility fields rock! Photo by Randy Gaines

BELIEVE.  Then work your butt off.     Photo by Randy Gaines

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

We’re participating in the Dog Agility Blogger Action Day today.  Check out all the tasty blogs on the topic of Improving Agility Organizations here:

http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/improving-agility-organizations/

Let’s keep it simple; how do I make my own agility community a better place?  Well, there’s lots of ways, but at it’s most basic, what can I ultimately control?

Me.  Me and my own actions.

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I wanted to run agility even before I knew what agility really was.  I was the kid running the family dog over hedges and flower pot jumps.  Decades passed, work and life happened…but then a busy merle fluff ball named Duncan came into my life.  Like many agility folks, I found agility simply to save my sanity.  Dunc needed something to do, and after completing basic obedience classes, I was looking for something a little more…<ahem> interesting to keep us busy.

Once we were in, I didn’t just dip my toes in the agility pool; I jumped and dug in, with both feet and a shovel.  I knew agility was IT.  My yard began that curious transformation common to our kind, sprouting PVC statuary, with neglected gardens gone shabby at the edges.  Months passed, we trained and prepared diligently, and I loaded Dunc in the car to go to our first trial.

I set out my crate, settled Dunc in his nest, and grinned at every person I passed.  How could I not?  I loved dogs…I loved this new sport and figured everyone around would share in that joy.  A few smiles were returned, but for the most part, it was Dunc and me…in our little setup, so nervous that I’d make a mistake epic enough to get us banned.  (and dude, pleeease don’t poop in the ring…) Granted, we didn’t have the most spectacular debut; Dunc was timid and worried, and kept pace with his shuffling handler only two weeks out of back surgery.  But when we earned our first Q, I wanted to high five everyone in the place.  A few people smiled.

By the end of the day, I found myself grinning less, finding it harder and harder to start up conversations with strangers.  I began to doubt myself.

And then the most wonderful thing happened:  another competitor who had the most elegant handling and wonderful dogs stopped to compliment me on my cute little dog who was trying so hard.  And then another came by to scratch Dunc’s ears, and another gave me a dazzling smile as I headed out of the ring.  Those small kindnesses filled me back up with joy, made me feel welcome.

Joy!   Photo by Randy Gaines

Joy!   Okay, a much later joy…but we got here with the help of small kindnesses from others.
Photo by Randy Gaines

In the years since, I’ve tried to repay those kindnesses.  How often do we see someone set up on the fringes, looking a little lost, smiling shyly, asking to say hello to your dog?  How often do we turn inward enjoying time with our friends, watching for our favorites?

Have I forgotten how gut wrenchingly nervous I was to to walk onto that field?  Would everyone laugh at how bad we were?  Would we get a big “F” on our first agility report card?  There is so much time, love and energy is invested simply in stepping to the line that first time.  I think I live in an area with some fantastic and friendly agility folks, but it’s never wrong to pay another compliment, say hello or admire someone’s teammate…especially if they’re struggling a bit.  Or online, if I like a blog, a video or a post someone put together with a diabolical challenge, a nice comment is most likely much appreciated by the person who went to the trouble putting it out there.

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It really isn’t hard to talk to a new person every day, notice something special about their run, and make sure they hear it.  If their dog refuses to leave the start line, jumps every contact, zooms around the ring or takes off with a numbered cone, laugh with them, and share your own disaster stories!  Sure, that woman may be gone next month, having decided agility wasn’t quite what she wanted.  But she’ll have good things to say about your club to others.   Or…your new friend might just go home and rototill that wayward garden into an agility field.

Gardens blow.  Agility fields rock! Photo by Randy Gaines

The garden bit the dust.  Agility fields rock!
Photo by Randy Gaines

While there’s a lot of debate in the agility world about what’s right and what’s wrong…when it comes down to it, the heart of agility is about loving the time we spend with our treasured pups.  We all have the power to notice someone, to compliment them, to help them to find that first agility grin.  And when they get their first Q?  A high-five wouldn’t be out of place.

And that lady with the dazzling smile?  Since then, we’ve shared thousands of miles, countless laughs and conversations about agility’s most fascinating subject…

…poop, of course!

 

The Global Agility Movement?

We’re participating in the Dog Agility Blog discussion today – with many great blogs all discussing the topic of the “Internationalization” of agility.  Check out the all the surfing goodness here:

http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/internationalization/

A Merlie perspective on the ‘internationalization’ of agility…

DesMan - ready to travel?

DesMan – ready to travel?

International Agility – FCI, Worlds, EO, what does it have to do with my trialling with my Merlie boys?  Well, in the last year or two, quite a lot despite our feet staying firmly in our own little neck of the woods.  We’ve participated in several online courses with students from all over the world, focusing on international style handling.

With Duncan, I admired international handlers from afar and studied the gnarly European courses and puzzling moves.  You see, Duncan has always been a teammate who ran for the love of me… (and some cookies) not especially for the love of the course.  But while he can open up and fly on flowing courses, I learned to love the challenge of finding him a way through a technical course.  Pinwheels were a drag, wraps were a cause to throw on the brakes and I’d earn Dunc-glares.  So, I threw myself into learning how to handle efficiently, and find ways to preserve his hard-earned speed as often as possible.  While I’m not always successful, when I cross the line with a grinning Dunc after a twisty course, I feel we’ve truly done something special together.

Duncan and me at the gate

Duncan and me at the gate

Desmond, on the other hand, drug me into the international school of agility handling, and in no time at all, I was converted.  Being able to train and practice with friends and teachers locally is irreplaceable, and I count many fellow competitors from the region as dear friends.  But in addition, the cool part is that my agility community now also crosses the country and spans the world. Being able to bounce ideas off others also trying to push their boundaries well past what most of us see on the weekends is hugely motivating.

Desmond doing his SuperMan thing...

Desmond doing his SuperMan thing…

So what about the moves and skills?  After many moons of teaching Des to collect, to extend, to wrap and slice, I’d love to actually test those skills on U.S. courses.  While I may harbor distant thoughts to competing internationally, that may just not be logistically possible for me…or many others like me.  Until recently, it seems these super technical courses have only been seen a few times a year at WTTs or various venue regional/nationals, which is still something many teams can only manage once in a great while, if at all.  Why not offer some international-style course options like USDAA Masters Challenge or AKC’s rumored  ‘Excellent C’ for everyone to run if they choose?  For those who want to give it a shot, let’s push our boundaries and challenge our team skills way past our comfort zones.  Surprising things can happen…eventually that might become our comfort zone.  Or at least, a place that doesn’t scare the crap out of us while being scope-locked on the course map.

And for those who worry that the venues will become too difficult or exclusive for the EveryDog, I don’t think that’s going to happen.  I too, run an EveryDog, and I will continue to run and play with Duncan on courses that bring us joy, twisty or not.  There is a place for courses that are difficult, that make you think, to puzzle and walk the path a dozen times, to employ that handling move you’ve rehearsed a thousand times in your back yard…just as there is a place for fun, but challenging courses that can be run by everyone.

I get it, not everyone can run as hard and fast as they may have once done.  (I now have the hardware to prove it myself)  Some handlers blow my mind with their amazing connection and skills at a distance, or ability to flow like water around a course.  A gray-faced teammate wagging his way around the course with his beloved handler will always bring me to tears.  But that’s the beauty of agility; there’s something for everyone.  And Des and I vote for more course options for back sides, wraps, and pull-throughs.  Why?  Because I like a challenge, because it’s tough and because my legs still work.

And maybe…just maybe…after falling victim to our share of traps and NQs, someday we’ll get to experience rocking a monster course, look back, and spit in its eye.

Got Rubber?

Around my trialling neighborhood, rubber contacts aren’t the norm (yet).  While I think hope like mad that rubber will eventually come this way, it’s not currently on most of the equipment we trial on.  With Des’s running contacts, I considered that training on rubber might make him think he has traction in places he won’t on sanded wood and could launch himself the wrong way when he hit the gas.  But in the end, I went with rubber for two reasons:

1) I wanted the dogwalk that Des runs over most often to be as cushioned and safe as I could make it.

2) My DW sits outside in the sun and snow all year round.  After six months, my well painted and sanded plywood ramps were already showing cracks.  My DW frame is beautifully made (thanks, Tom!), but there’s really nothing anyone can do about the quality of ‘marine grade’ plywood these days.  I’m just happy I’m not trying to build a boat!

So in the fine tradition of peer pressure (tell your friends!), I hope the following how-to may take some of the mystery out of sticking down that rubber and that traction-riffic contacts could become the norm in our agility neighborhood too.  (come on, everybody’s doing it!)

I chose pre-made dogwalk skins from Rubber On the Run.  Why?  Dunc has run on  NADAC spec rubber belting, rubber granules glued to an epoxy base, and rubber skins, and they all have good grip.  For me, the granules were out…I’ve messed with epoxy a time or two and it’s easy to get it really wrong (reference above boat building fears...I had a bad experience)!   I wanted a flat, non-sticky-uppy surface that was sealed firmly to the plank on all edges.  It was a bonus that I think the skins are pretty, and who doesn’t love a pretty contact obstacle?   You can get a kit and form the skins yourself, but that was more than I wanted to take on, skill, time or garage space-wise.

Enough about the why – let me get to the how…at least in reference to the skin type rubber.  First off, my plywood topped DW didn’t have slats.  If you have slats, I’d strongly recommend taking them off to sand your wood base as flat as possible.  Trying to cut and fit rubber sections between wooden slats – and get the rubber tight to the wood joints – would be a nightmare.  If you want slats, the skins have a slat option.  More details on this later.

First, sand the boards as flat as possible so the rubber will have a uniform surface to adhere to.  If your plywood is warped at all, it might be better to just replace it.  I used a palm and belt sander.  The belt sander did the majority of the work, and the palm helped get the edges and areas around the screw heads.  When you buy sandpaper (and you’ll want LOTS of it),  find a grit as coarse as your sanded surface.  Then choose one coarser than that…it will look like paper with small rocks glued to it.  Just a warning if you’ve not used a belt sander before…before firing it up, HANG ON.  Holy crap, the darn thing took me for a ride the first time I pulled the trigger.   I used to run a chain saw at work, and I think that sander called the shots in a way that no Stihl ever did.

A good sanding will look like the center plank in the photo – some paint and sand base remaining, but a much smoother and glue-friendly surface overall.

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I then gave the ramps a couple of coats of paint each to seal the wood.  A small foam roller worked well.  If you need to adjust your contact length, this is the time to do it.  In my case, I was changing from 42″ to 36″ contacts, so painted the top and sides of the wood to match.

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Gluing:  I followed the manufacturer’s advice and bought the “Wozzit” glue instead of using a rubber cement type glue.  The huge plus is that the Wozzit glue allows for some adjustments once the rubber is stuck down…I could move the entire rubber sheet back and forth to make sure I had it on straight and lined the edges up carefully.  Once the rubber cement glue adheres to the rubber skin, you’re literally stuck with what you’ve got.  I can’t even stick a decal on my car window without messing it up…I was NOT going to screw around with a giant sheet of rubber!

The instructions that were included weren’t bad, but while they mention you’ll need clamps, they don’t mention how many clamps.  You’ll need a lot.  Fewer if you don’t have the skin with rubber slats, but if you do, you’ll need 1-2 clamps per section between rubber slats and some wood pieces to put between the rubber and the clamp.  What worked best was to spread glue on the ramp in foot long sections, unrolling the rubber and clamping as we went.  When we ran out of clamps, we stopped gluing for the day.  The next day, we continued where we left off, with no problems.  I’d imagine an A Frame could be done in a similar fashion…if you don’t use contact cement, a couple people could unroll/glue as they went, and adjust the edges as needed.

Here’s a picture of our gluing operation in action; note all the high tech devices that were employed to weight the clamped wood down.  It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.  Where ever the glued wood was in contact with the rubber, it stuck, but a few small areas near the edges didn’t get direct adhesion and weren’t stuck.  The next day, I shoved a knife blade with glue into those spots, re-clamped and viola!  Perfect!  One more tip – it was a little cold when we glued, so we put the glue bottle in a bucket of hot water.  The glue flowed and spread beautifully.

No soup for you!

No soup for you!

And here’s what it looked like when done.  The rubberized plank on the right still needs trimming.  We did that with a builder’s utility knife, but I’ve also seen some pretty handy trimming on YouTube with an old electric carving knife, if anyone can convince their Mom to part with that ’70’s must-have.

DW4And done!  The planks look beautiful, the rubber surface is almost flat on top.

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I’d mentioned slats earlier.  I’m not a huge fan of slats, but decided to get them because it’s required by the majority of the US and international venues, and didn’t want Des’s first taste of slat to come in a trial.  The rubber slats are formed out of the same rubber material, and literally fused to the surface of the contact rubber.  There are no gaps between the rubber surface and rubber slat, and the slats have a small bit of give, just like the surface itself.

DSC_2141And how do the boys like the rubber?  Des demonstrates below.  Well, maybe that’s not the best picture to illustrate paw grip…now that I think about it.

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I can’t address longevity yet, but upkeep in my sand field means I break out the broom to sweep it off every now and then.  It’s sat through quite a lot of snow and two weeks of sub-teen (and zero) temps this winter, and the edges remain where I stuck them.  We’ll see how it handles the thermal nastiness of summer, but so far, rubber does indeed rock!

Fusion Part 1: Nuts and Bolts

Six weeks ago today, I had my lumbar fusion surgery.  I now have four titanium screws, two pins and some sort of cage residing in my back.  What, you ask, have I been doing with my time besides figuring out if I’ll set off metal detectors?  (They say I won’t.  I’m skeptical.)  I’m not really sure, but it’s gone by a lot faster than I’d ever imagined.   For those who stumbled this way looking for a fusion story, beware, I am a dog training and agility superfreak looking to find the fastest path back to the agility field running my pups.  And for my agility friends, I promise to throw in a gratuitous Merlie picture every now and then just to keep things semi-normal.

Mama, get better soon!

Mama, get better soon!

But for those out there looking for a firsthand experience of the L5-S1 fusion surgery with a person determined to be active again, I hope to…well…give you some hope – all while I’m hoping like mad that my own fusion will be successful.  It seems that 99% of the experiences on the Internet are written to scare the living crap out of you, by those who seem to relish dishing out doom and gloom.   I suspect most folks after surgery heal, recover, and get back to their lives, too busy to visit back pain forums.  While it would be easier for me to skim over these details and go right back to writing about something much more fun, (woof!) I realize sharing my surgery and recovery experience may help others facing the same fate, or any physical setback, for that matter.

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition.  Giving up is what makes it permanent.”     -Marilyn vos Savant

Brotherly love at it's finest!

Brotherly love at it’s finest!

My stay in the hospital could have been quite brief.  Shortly after being admitted, hooked up to various machines and started on what the nurse called the “you won’t care” drug, I suddenly and violently cared.  I cared enough to clearly visualize flinging off all the machines and running screaming out of the building, gown flapping in my wake.  Thankfully, clearer heads (and a heavier husband with excellent calming skills) prevailed, and I stayed put until the drugs kicked in, and then yep…I didn’t care.  Thank you, drug provided oblivion!

In what seemed like three seconds after I was wheeled in the OR, I woke in recovery with a friendly nurse hovering overhead talking to me, asking me questions.  But the only voice screaming in my head like a fire alarm was my own:  Do your &^%$-ing toes work??”  Left foot – check.  Right foot…hey right foot, yes, YOU!  Check.  <<Deep breath and silent thanks to a surgeon who paid attention in class>>  But back to that nurse…thanks for the ice chips.  I think you saved my life.

The next three days went by in a blur, more for me than anyone else.  They said I was under for about 3.5 hours, and anesthesia really screws me up.  For a while I was setting personal blood pressure records, some that may have qualified me as an honorary zombie.  BPs like 75 over 57 made the walks I took several times a day quite interesting.  I’d hobble out slower than a turtle with my walker, with my entourage of therapist, nurse and IV on wheels.  I’d make it to the corner, start seeing spots, and come racing back like a Citroen on the last stage of the Dakar rally…usually on two wheels, and sliding to a stop back in bed.  Thankfully, this wasn’t my husband’s first post-surgery rodeo, and he both expected and kept up with my I’m-going-to-faint-turbo-speed. The three nights weren’t bad…except for being awakened every two hours for vital checks by the nurses, (who rocked) and every other hour by a screeching machine that didn’t seem to do anything but wait until I was again asleep to screech.  Then there were the pre-dawn vampires.  Being jolted awake at 5:30 by a woman claiming she was from the lab wielding a needle and sub par vein-locating skills was not my favorite part.

THIS was my favorite part.  Many an ET joke was made...

THIS was my favorite part. Many an ET joke was made…

Up to this point, I haven’t mentioned what the pain was like.  I know what 10 on the pain scale feels like, and I expected something close to that.  And…I didn’t.  Yes, there was a constant pain, yes, it sucked, but it wasn’t impossible to tune out the majority of it most of the time.  Maybe I was lucky and the drugs worked, maybe I had a talented surgeon, (and I believe I did) or maybe the back gods decided that by my third surgery I deserved a break, if not a frequent buyer’s card?  Whatever the reason, I’m thankful.  Sure, it hurt like hell to sit up and move around, I felt like my lower back had been replaced by something made by Cyberdyne waaaay before the T-101, and I wanted to boot every time I stood up, but I could handle it.  Getting through this was my quickest route back to getting my life back.

To remind me of that goal, I brought a little photo album filled with pictures of the pups that would have put any grandmother to shame.  I accosted any nurse who dared to come close enough for me to show them.  One nurse who’d been around the block a time or two happened to be quite a dog lover, so she’d ask to see a new picture every time she came in.  On my last morning, they said I could go home…after a therapist taught me how to climb stairs.  But she’d not be back until afternoon.  Having already been through two more minor back surgeries I was sadly familiar with the stairs routine.  My new nurse friend winked at me,  and before I knew it, I’d been shoveled into a wheelchair and deposited at the curb where my husband waited to take me home.  Never mind that I only made it two minutes in the front seat before crawling into the back for the rest of the ride home.  Never mind I recited a ‘don’t boot in the truck, don’t boot in the truck‘ mantra.  I was home.  With my pups.  With my family.  The worst was behind me, with a lot of healing to come in the weeks ahead.

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Weaves…Contacts…and a Deadline!

When my surgery date was set, I had five loooong weeks to wait.  That day, I set a goal of getting Desmond to full height on his dogwalk and closing Des’s channel weaves completely.  While I didn’t want to rush him, for me, a deadline is unbeatable motivation.  As a serious bonus, it’s provided a welcome distraction full of happy puppy thoughts and given me a reason to get out there Every.  Single.  Day.   As if I could resist this face…

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There’s nothing like knowing I’m going to be a chair jockey for a couple + months to motivate me to get outside and run.  And in the last five weeks, that’s exactly what we’ve done!

Des and I began working weaves in earnest around his first birthday.  I’d happened across the channel method as a part of the online classes I’m taking, and decided to give it a shot.  I worked him a couple times a week for a few months, succeeding at some gnarly entires while gradually closing the channel, yet leaving it open enough not to actually make him weave a lot.  In November, I began to close about an inch a week, and he weaved his first completely closed set right after Thanksgiving.  Since then, he’s blown me away with his ability to hit entries…at speed or with the meanest angles I can dream up.

And his running dogwalk?  Each time I’d raised the height of his dogwalk in the previous month, he never flinched, adjusting quickly to maintain his lovely striding.  That is, until we hit 45″; a mere three inches short of full height.  All of a sudden, things fell apart.  His strides became shorter, and he missed the contact over and over.  I pondered what to do. I promised myself he was *not* broken, no matter how heavy the sinking feeling in my stomach.  He needed to build back up his confidence.  With Duncan, I would have dropped the height and built back up a little less quickly.  But this is Des, who charges at most things like his fur is on fire.  So, I decided to take my cues from Des and do the same.  For several days, I ran alongside the dogwalk like a madwoman, making a heck of a racket, and most likely worrying the neighbors and scaring the wildlife.

But it worked.  Des got his striding back and began to fly.  A week later, we raised it to FULL HEIGHT!  

More than six months.  Learning to see his stride.  Learning to reward a good stride.  Des learning to adjust his own stride.  Dragging myself out before sunrise to beat the heat, rushing home and running in my work clothes to catch the last few minutes of daylight…it’s been a long journey.  One that’s been truly worth it.  What?  Video?  Of course!

We aren’t done yet…we still need to work turns, but getting to full height on the dogwalk and competition weave poles were two large and rewarding hurdles.  Ones that will help carry me through the upcoming months of forced idleness.  While I may be watching Die Hard (hey, it’s a Christmas movie…) or Downton Abbey reruns, I’m sure a small part of my mind will be be doing mental handsprings over what Des has done.  And looking oh, OH so forward to running him the moment I’m able to do so again.

Yippie ki-yay….

Plan B? Nah, This is Definitely Plan C…

Well, damn.

I’ve seen more than enough MRIs of the lower spine to know that the one I was looking at had a pretty screwed up L5-S1 disc.  The problem was that the image on the screen was, for the third time, of my own back.

This is just the latest chapter of a losing 13 year battle with this disc, including two previous back surgeries, and I was fresh out of options.  So, in mid December, I’m having spinal fusion surgery.

In the span of an hour, my plans for the next six months to a year have changed drastically. Instead of debuting my brilliant little boy, Des, I’m going to instead be inventing Rube Goldberg-like devices to be able to tie my own shoelaces.  The cool (and disturbing) part is that I’ll soon have titanium parts: screws, rods and bionic thing-a-ma-doodles.  You can bet the first time I run post surgery I’ll be making ‘na-na-na-na6 Million Dollar Man sound effects.  The not so cool part is that I won’t be able to even shuffle around outside with the Merlie Boys for a couple months, and if all goes well, not back to running at all until sometime next summer.  Gah.  I haven’t gone three days without working Des in a year.   Mr. Neurosurgeon, I think you’ve officially taken away my birthday.

How did I get here?  Well, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told “you’re too young to have xxx back surgery…”, (as if that fixes things) I could buy you lunch.  But since I’m a few years shy of 40…

Some would hazard a guess that it came from the years of hanging my arse over the side of a boat, my unofficial major in college.

That’s my said arse in front, in the blue lifejacket. San Diego Thistle Midwinters, January, 1997.

Others may speculate it came from hauling 1/3 of my (then) bodyweight across the countryside for weeks on end and spending days bent over digging as my means of employment with the St. Joe Hotshots?

A few years after my hotshot days, I guess the crew didn’t stop digging <ahem>to take pictures.

Or years later, dragging almost that much weight around for fun?

Mmmm….red rock canyons!  How I long to have red grit in my ears again!

Or maybe I’ve just been too stubborn to slow down combined with a bad draw in the joint lottery?  Whatever.

If you’ve read this blog before or know me peronally, you might think I lean towards a little ‘too’ positive (at least where agility is concerned and after I’ve had my coffee).  Well, now you know why.  Every time I’ve stepped to the line in the three years since my last surgery I’ve known two things:  to cherish each and every run with my amazing teammate, and that each day that my body carries me around the course is a gift.  Life is too short, too good and running Merlies too much fun to let this slow me down permanently.  So let’s screw this problem down (literally), and get on with things!  With luck, Des’s debut will only be delayed a few months, and I’ll be running harder and faster than ever come summer.  Because if you’ve seen the DesMan lately you’ll understand why that’s gonna be a requirement!

I have a few weeks left before my surgery, so I’m putting my time and mobility to good use.  I’m aiming to get Des to full height on his dogwalk, and his channel weave poles closed.  If we don’t make it, that’s okay, but goals are good.  Stay tuned for video progress!

I’ll apologize now, in the coming months, I may be posting a little more about surgery and recovery than about agility.  But I’ve learned there’s that there’s a huge lack of positive stories about surgery and a return to athletic pursuits on the internet to help others facing the same situation.  So I plan on documenting mine.  Because I’m determined that I’ll be back out there Running Happy as soon as the doc says it’s safe to do so.

Thanks, C for finding this, and you and G for getting this picture! It’s Dunc’s mantra!

It’s been a while since I was a professional dirt thrower, but some of the lessons learned on the line become ingrained for life.  Hotshots have a pretty straightforward mentality on tough assignments. Here’s the PG-13 rated version:

“The hill is steep.  So the heck what.  Quit your bitching and get going”.

I know this isn’t going to be a walk in the park.  But I’m going to get going, and keep going.