The first day was the Steeplechase round. This was a balls-to-the-wall run: they only took the top 16 dogs in Cinder’s jump height (out of over 220 dogs) so you had to run clean and run really fast. My biggest fear about this run was that I would pansy-out and not run Cinder as hard as I could. Well, I didn’t pansy-out and Cinder was AMAZING. While she didn’t make the cut for the Final Round of Steeplechase, she ended up in 26th place overall. What a great dog! She was screamingly excited but was still very responsive, I am so proud of her.
The Performance Grand Prix quarterfinals with Patch were nerve-wracking: we just had to run clean. And being the good girl that she is, Patches ignored my nerves and got her way around clean. Yay – two shirts attained! (They gave out shirts to those who made the semi-finals so I got one for the Championship Grand Prix with Cin and one for the Performance Grand Prix with Patches.) As far as I was concerned, mission was complete for the 2005 Nationals. Everything else was gravy.
The Grand Prix semi-finals were like the Steeplechase: they took very few dogs so you just had to run your heart out. Patches and I had an awkward, weird run so…no go there. Cinder and I had an AMAZING fast run going; however, she was running much faster than I am used to and I had a late call out of a tunnel, earning us a refusal. Totally my fault. Next year, we will get the Grand Prix J
OK – onto DAM Team. A quick explanation of how this works: you run 4 courses over a couple days and you and your teammates cumulative score is added up. You do NOT want to get an “E” (off-course) because that earns you a big whopping zero, which in this type of competition will wipe you out. For the Finals, they took 36 teams from Championship and 10 Teams from Versatility. There were about 200 Championship DAM Teams and about 70 Versatility Pairs Teams. My goal was to have my teams not finish last.
First off – my teammates were all awesome. They were incredibly supportive and fun and made my first Nationals a truly enjoyable experience. In a nutshell, all the dogs ran clean in every run. The one bobble was that in Snooker (in the opening) Patches came out of a tunnel on 3 legs: she had hurt herself on the tunnel holders! It was awful. It was our first team run and I wasn’t sure Patch was going to make it for the rest of the week, plus we had only earned 20 points (when we would have gotten 35-38 if she hadn’t hurt herself) for our Team. Dan was GREAT and the good news is that Patch was sound again within about 15 minutes. Whew!
I had another scary moment with Patch on the second day. I went to check out team standings and we were waaayyy down on the bottom. I could not figure out why since both Patch and Nala had run clean in the their two classes the previous day. When I looked at the particulars, I noticed that someone had entered Patches Standard run as an “E” which meant zero points. We had had one refusal but not an elimination. In somewhat of a panic, I tracked down someone in charge and despite repeated pestering on my part, they stayed really nice and fixed the problem. Apparently there was ANOTHER “Patches, Aussie, 16” Perf” who had zeroed the day before and they had entered her info for my Patches. But they were wonderful and got the problem fixed! Another big WHEW!
There were some hairy-scary moments during the Team runs (the Jumpers course was a nightmare) but all of us held it together and ran without getting eliminated! Now it was just a finger-cross to see if we had made it into the Finals. This was where the super-efficient show completely broke down.
There we all were on Saturday night, waiting to see the Team standings to know who had made it into the Final round of Relay. The schedule said that Team Finals were to start at 7pm (which made me groan, the early-to-bed soul that I am!) and we are standing around at 6:30 pm, NOT KNOWING who made the cut. They made the announcement: YAY!!! Cinder’s team was in 12th place and Patches team was in 4th! Yippee Skippee! So - hundreds of folks milling around - they tell us that the walk throughs will be divided in half (for both Performance and Champ) and that we will be starting RIGHT AWAY so those with Perf. dogs will walk first and then go get their dogs while Champ is walking and then the rings will start. Well, I start to panic - I had a dog in both and, at that time, they weren't running the same parts of the relay. So I decide that 10 minutes is more than enough to run both sides for Patch and Cinder. I do my walking - get kicked off course 3 minutes early and go rushing back to get my dogs. Did I mention that the crating area was several football fields away from the main ring? So....I am told I can't bring a crate up for my second dog so I go scurrying around madly trying to find someone who can hold Cinder while I run Patch and then switch dogs. 7pm comes and goes....7:15 comes and goes....7:30....ahhhh...the gate steward is coming out with the list of 10 Perf. Pairs for the relay. But it is not in any sort of order for jump heights etc. 10 more minutes of frenzy - I find someone to hold Cinder and finally get to run. Patches was SPUN: it was very exciting in the main ring. There were lights, screaming crowds, cameras, a band and a palpable layer of tension in the air. That darn dog broke her start! This black bullet went racing by me (sigh…) but once I caught up to her, we were clean. Just the one refusal at the weaves – good girl! I pet Patch, start to panic about running with Cinder next so I hand Patch to someone, get Cin, start warming her up and they finish with Perf. Pairs. Next thing I know, the ring crew (these teenagers who didn't know ANYTHING and kept setting bars wrong) are told to go to the hospitality tent and they fed them dinner!!!! While all the Champ. teams are standing around in the cold, we haven't eaten, our dogs haven't eaten, it's after 8pm and they are feeding the friggin' ring crew for working for 10 runs! AAUUGGHHH. It was SO disorganized I can't even tell you. I not only should have left Cin in the crating area originally, I had more than enough time to walk back and forth - AND, to add insult to injury, they really rushed our walk throughs but then we all got to stand there for 45 minutes and watch an empty ring while the workers ate. And they wouldn't let us walk again. OK - it was exciting to run under the lights and with screaming crowds but definitely not organized or well run at that point.
Back to the Final Three-Dog Relay with Cinder, Finn and Seeker. We all decided to go for broke – not to run safe (although I think if we’d run safe and clean we might have had a Top Ten Finish but that wasn’t really the point.) Cinder ran the first part of the relay and she was on fire! Unfortunately, we missed our A-Frame contact (I released her too soon) – I handed off the baton to Mia and Finn was off like a maniac! He got a refusal at the teeter (so at least it wasn’t just me who screwed up!) and then Seeker took off like a shot – he’s such a lovely dog – and Seeker had one fault as well, I just can’t remember what it was J Despite our mistakes, we ended up in 25th place overall! Not bad – another Top 10% finish. The good news is that we all ran our hearts out, really going for it, which is the point of a Finals Competition at Nationals. After all, nothing sounds bad when you add the phrase “…in the Finals” after it: “Cinder missed her contact…in the Finals.” I can hardly wait for next year! I might actually train my dogs.
Dog Agility Video Clip of Seeker USDAA Team Relay - November 12, 2005