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AKC Nationals in Long Beach - December 2003
by Kristi Cetrulo

I was fortunate enough to qualify Patches for the 2003 AKC Agility Nationals in Long Beach, CA this year. I did not get any of my own dogs qualified, which was a bummer, but looking back on it, was probably a good thing.

Nationals really started for me the weekend before in Camarillo. Contact Point Agility put on a trial using the Max-Trac footing (which, no matter what fancy name they use is really industrial strength carpet) that we would all be competing on in Long Beach. They had the ring set up indoors and ran the Excellent dogs inside. This was my (and my dogs) first experience on Max Trac and I figured it was better to get them on it BEFORE Nationals. I say "they" because even though Cinder didn't qualify, I took her to the Contact Point show in fond hope that SOMEDAY she would!

The footing was an experience. After several face plants at the practice jump, both dogs figured out that "Hey! This stuff is slippery! And I have no traction!" Much to my surprise, Cinder actually rated her speed down and Q'd both days in her Standard! Patches - the wonderful girl that she is - was 3 for 4 (Double Q #14!) so I went into Nationals fairly confident that Patches could keep her feet under her.

The Long Beach Convention Center is HUGE - I have never been there before so I was somewhat taken aback by the enormity of the place and also quite frustrated that no one who worked there seem to know where the unloading area was. I will not bore you with tales of driving in circles for what seemed like hours, but I finally got parked and unloaded. There was extremely limited crating (on concrete) and I was quite glad I only had one dog to deal with.

Tuesday was the International/State Team Tournament. This is considered a "warm-up" to the "real" Nationals - with one standard and one jumpers course offered. The courses were lovely and flowing but the times (they were using International times) were MUCH tighter. Patch was clean in her Standard but over Jumpers time (SCT was 35 seconds) by a couple seconds. But she finished 26th out of over a 100 dogs in her jump height! Good girl. Tuesday was a VERY relaxed day for me - I wasn't worried at all (one friend actually sniped at me at one point for being "a little TOO relaxed and nonchalant.")

I have to say that taking Patches to my first big National event was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I knew that even if Patches had the best 3 runs of her life, she had no chance. Reality. She is not the world's fastest dog but she IS reliable and fairly unflappable (except when her mother is there!) Knowing deep down that we didn't have a chance made me look honestly at the goals I wanted to accomplish at my first Nationals. I wanted to remember the courses (the tension and excitement was pretty high and easy to get caught up in), I wanted to run aggressively and not pansy out because of the stress, and I wanted to run Patches honestly and be fair to her. I also did not want to be ranked last! Those were my goals - pretty basic and straightforward but you should have seen how many people got lost on course (from nerves) or ran totally different than I had seen them run elsewhere. It is alarming what tension can do to us. If I had had Cinder at the show my attitude probably would have been much different - and not for the better. You would have been prying me off the ceiling!

Despite all thoughts mentioned above, Wednesday dawned - the Individual Tournament - and as I waited to go on the line for our first run, my stomach tied up in amazing knots. I cannot remember when I was last that nervous! I mean, I almost always get nervous before I go out on line (even now, with all those dogs) but this was worse than ANYTHING I had ever experienced. Ever. The good news is that I did not get lost on course and I certainly did NOT run cautious. The bad news is that I pushed Patches harder than I ever have (KNOWING that this was the time to do that) and she dropped a bar. Other than that, she was clean and we stayed on course so I was pretty happy. Our jumpers run was slow but she was clean and made time. I could tell that Patches was getting tired. She had competed Sat/Sun on concrete covered with carpet, then run again on Tues and now it was Wed. Old girl was slowing down but she kept trying her heart out for me! One other thing that was a bit intimidating (but also really cool) was that I always followed a top handler out onto the course. The level of competition was awesome. And I met some of the nicest people from all over the country.

Thurs was the hybrid class and the last round from which the Challengers and the Finalists would come from. Patches was 82nd (out of 135) in the standings at the end of Wed (thanks to the dropped bar) so I only wanted to run her clean and let her be successful. She was great - ran clean and we ended up 60th overall. Not bad! I was delighted that we finished in the top 50% of the competitors in our jump heights. What a girl!

A quick aside - I got to wander around the rest of the show - what an amazing event. There were so many different breeds and there were special booths set up for each breed so you could wander around and learn more about them. I must say, the Aussie booth (run by my buddies) was a favorite stop. And the shopping! Oh my.....the only good news is that I was so overwhelmed that I actually only bought one thing - at Moe's Toys - because I knew if I got started elsewhere, it would never end!

One other note, and this was quite bittersweet for me. I cannot tell you how many people (and many of them were complete strangers) came up to me and asked me where Oso was. One of the judges (she runs Samoyeds) even asked me that when I went out on the line with Patches. "Where is Oso?" seemed to be the refrain of the weekend. Guess the little howler is better known than I thought. It was very sad to say "he is retired" and know that I will only hear him talking at me at NADAC/ASCA shows where he can jump 16". He was my first agility dog and is STILL my favorite dog to run because of the absolute joy he evinces as he roars around a course. Kathie Brusca has always said "He looks like he is going on a hunt with you when he running a course." Whenever I start to take this agility thing too seriously, I watch a run (usually a non-Q run) with Oso and remember that this is all about joy and enthusiasm. Sorry about the digression - Oso has been an amazing dog for me.

OK - back to Nationals. Thursday afternoon was a BLAST. I had accomplished all the goals I had set for myself and Patches and now I could relax and watch the Challengers round and the Finals. It was SO exciting to watch these dog/handler teams go for broke! You had to win the Challengers Round to make it to Finals so people were really moving. Then came the Finals. People were crammed so tightly into the stands that I felt a bit like a sardine. I was crammed in by Dan Dege on one side (and he is a BIG guy) and an Aussie Sr. Breeder judge (who is a lovely lady) on the other. There were delays (as usual) and Animal Planet was there in force to film the event. To help pass the time, many former world team members/helpers went out on the course and started dancing! Marq Cheek is quite the enthusiastic dancer as is Susan Garrett and Sarah Johnson. It was a BLAST. The energy level was so high I am surprised the roof stayed on the building. But the event finally got going!

I am NOT going to give you a blow-by-blow accounting of the event. I will list the times it will be aired on TV - I just wanted to mention a couple high points and a couple "disasters" from the Finals.

Elicia Calhoun has been on the World Team with her little Aussie Suni more times than I can remember. I have taken several seminars with her (one just recently) and she has been fundamental is changing my attitude about how I run Cinder. And she is one of the NICEST people I have ever met. I mean, REALLY NICE. She just retired Suni from WT competition this year and is actually jumping her at her "normal" height of 16". If you have never met Suni - she is teeny-tiny. It is amazing that this little girl has been jumping 26" all these years. Well, Suni and Elicia both had to get used to jumping a (much) lower jump height so they ended up in the Challengers Round where they smoked the course and made it to the Finals. As Elicia told me, they don't do anything the easy way - has to be under maximum pressure. Well, they both shone and I was DELIGHTED when Suni won the 16" class in the Finals and I was hopping around in the stands! Also-no big dog beat Suni's time. They are the most amazing team to watch!

A bummer (for the handler) was in the 24" class. I can't remember who the man was, but he and his Malinois had a stellar round going. They were at the closing sequence of 4 jumps - dog on handlers right, the arc of the course was to the right, and the handler was in perfect position to run his dog down the final line of jumps. This was a supremely well trained dog. As the dog entered the final line, the handler yelled "right" (which was the WRONG DIRECTIONAL-he meant to say "left") and the dog turned right, AWAY from his handler who was going full tilt boogie the other direction - and did a pinwheel at the other end of the course. This was a crying shame. But what an amazingly well-trained dog. This is the real reason I don't use directionals: I cannot possibly think fast enough and would definitely screw my dog up. I always admire those who can use them!

HAving Ann Croft and Trigger win the 24" was a huge thrill too! YAY ANN!!! It is so much fun when it is people you know~

Well, this Nationals was a ton of fun and it has totally motivated to get Cinder qualified for next year. I don't care if it is Florida - I want to go and have a blast with my little blue dog!

Happy runs!


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