A Lifelong Journey
I am frequently asked, "Christopher, what sports do you play?" Every time I slowly ponder this question, knowing that a commonplace answer such as "I play basketball," or "I play football," or any other typical reply is expected. Then, without further hesitation I respond, "Well, I train dogs and compete with them in a variety of canine sports." This is undoubtedly followed by a puzzled reaction in which I am indebted to provide a more elaborate description, giving more insight into my quite unique pastime. The truth is, I do train dogs and actively partake in the companion events of agility and flyball. My involvement in the dog world over the past six years has largely molded me into the person I am today. Not only have I developed an immense relationship with my dogs, but I have also obtained priceless values needed in the journey through life: dedication, persistence, patience, and perseverance. When the sparks were set aflame six years ago, I knew that this would be something that I would always endear and hold close to my heart. I can honestly say that I love what I do and wouldn't trade it for anything.
I am not the athlete; my dogs are. Though, I do consider myself as their coach, trainer, handler, owner, and most importantly, their best friend. I can truly not imagine what life would be like without my two border collies, Ace and Quest. They are brilliant bundles of zest and charisma and brighten my day, from their wet good morning kisses at dawn to their spontaneous and amusing antics at dusk. They are my inspiration.
Dogs have always been a part of my life, even before seeking involvement in the dog fancy. As a kid, I grew up with charming and loyal golden retrievers and only recently have I discovered how captivating the border collie breed is. Six years ago I endeavored into dog training at the basic obedience level with my golden retriever, Blake. When I witnessed the sport of agility for the first time, I was in awe. My childish thoughts were, "What a cool thing would that be to do!" After several months into training, Blake suffered a devastating break to his leg in an accident unrelated to agility. I still however maintained a burning desire to pursue the sport and it was then that I acquired my first border collie, Ace. After a long search I knew that I had found my perfect match. Starting anew, Ace and I embarked on a long journey and at that point, I could have never dreamed of the extent to which we would accomplish as a team. Under the watchful eye of mentor and trainer, Wendy Pape, Ace and I worked diligently together with a drive for success. Dog training is not an individual activity. You are not permitted to solely think of yourself; rather it is based on teamwork and cooperation. It is one of a few pastimes where you must rely on one another to reach great feats. There is nothing better than to watch your dog gradually develop into his full potential.
After a solid year of training, Ace and I timidly made our debut in the agility ring.
There was no need for apprehension, as Ace gave an impressive display of his talents, under my supporting guidance. This astonishing performance was only met by even better runs as our experience in the ring increased. Over the course of his career, we have been individual World Finalists and have had top ten placements in the Team Events at the United States Dog Agility Association Nationals. As well, we received a prestigious invitation to participate in the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge and have achieved the Flyball Dog Champion title in our other area of competition. At these events, I have many times been the youngest competitor pitted against rather experienced adults and professional trainers. To know that we have achieved so much in such a short amount of time only proves that anything is possible if you set your heart at it and invest the right amount of dedication and determination.
Throughout our journey, life has not always been merry and sweet, in fact the greatest challenge that I have had to overcome relates to my dogs. When Ace was two I became aware that Ace had the degenerative disease of hip dysplasia. Life took a sharp and abrupt turn. Ace was still at a tender age and had been competing only for six months. Countless questions raced through my head: Will he always be able to compete? Will he always be able to even walk? Will he ever live a normal dog life? This was as much my problem as it was Ace's. We sought a variety of medical and physical approaches to better condition his feeble body. Life has its little way of throwing hardships and challenges at us when we least expect it - Ace was at his prime, just developing into one of the best dogs in Florida. We did not succumb to this incurable, but treatable disease. Ace went on to achieve a prestigious placement at nationals the following year and served as an enlightening example to me that life is too precious to yield to anything that impedes your quest for success.
Participation in dog training, specifically in agility, has allowed me to further advance the interactions with my dogs at a level that is fun and enjoyable for the both of us. I would be completely content if we never set foot into the competition ring. It's not about competing, but enjoying the time spent with man's best friend. The agility ring does however give you a chance to showcase the connection between dog and handler in a very pleasurable and thrilling environment. When I walk out of the ring after each run I take confidence in knowing that the dog and I have given it our all and demonstrated to the best of our ability our relationship that also exists outside of the ring. However, in competition, when you come out on top, among some of the best teams in the country, it serves as a validation of the work that you and your dog have invested in the fancy.
Just as in any vocation in which you are completely committed to, being involved in the dog world has greatly contributed to my development as a person. Such diligence has instilled a multitude of values that are critical to behold: patience, cooperation, teamwork, dedication, commitment, and motivation to succeed.
In the future, I hope to continue to better represent the border collie breed, and the purebred dog for that matter, through active and continued participation in the dog fancy. It is very possible that I will also take up breeding and professional dog training on the side from my career as a medical doctor. As a physician involved in the sport, I will make it my goal to increase awareness of the necessity of human health and performance to be just as important as that of the dog's, especially in demanding team events such as agility. At such a tender age, I have already acquired a great deal of knowledge about advancing the bond between humans and their canine companions in regards to participation in dog training and canine sports. As a leader in the next generation of dog enthusiasts, I will take what I have learned and will to continue to learn and apply it towards the future in the hope of advancing the purebred dog and achieving greater levels of public education on how to maximize the human/dog relationship.
When it comes down to it, it's not about how many medals or first place finishes you've earned or how many titles you can fit after your dog's name, it's about the immense relationship that you have formed with your dog. That is how you measure success. It's all about having fun with man's best friend.