Aging opens one's eyes to different opportunities

Posted: Sunday, June 03, 2001

Talk about a painful reminder.

I spent all winter working with my dog Bailey getting ready for the summer agility-trial season.

I took pride in getting to the club nearly every day so we could hone our skills -- Bailey's in maneuvering over each obstacle safely, and mine in giving her the proper direction in voice and body movements to get her through the course.

I've only been at the sport for a year, but I was getting pretty confident in our ability to work as a team. I even was starting to look forward to the first trial of the season -- although I couldn't think of it without a horde of butterflies attacking my stomach.

Last August, Bailey and I competed in our first trial and did well, but I was a total nervous wreck. I couldn't eat, sleep or sit down. I had a bad case of the jitters. I eventually relaxed -- on the way home.

This year I knew what to expect.

With the trial approaching in May, I had been working on ways to be calm, relaxed and to have fun.

I was ready! We were ready!

Then it happened.

On the last night of class before the trial, Bailey was wiggling her way through the weave poles, then she turned toward me. All I had to do was get her to come to me, then we could move on to the next obstacle in the course.

But she didn't. She decided, for some reason, to go for the jump behind me, and when I tried to call her off of it, I turned toward her.

Unfortunately, my knee didn't.

As I slumped in half in the middle of the course, Bailey came right to me as if to apologize for her whimsical move, and also, I'd like to think, in concern.

I could hear the voices of my fellow classmates and teacher inquiring as to whether it was dog or handler error.

Finally, someone surmised that possibly I wasn't upset but in agony.

"Are you all right?"

"I think so," I muttered and hobbled off the course.

With the trial in mind, I walked it off in the corner while the next team ran. Then I did something pretty typical for me: I pushed it.

"Can I run it again?" I asked the teacher.

At the time it seemed OK. The next day I was in tears, knowing I most likely blew any chance of running in the trial.

I spent that day pampering my knee like you wouldn't believe. There were pillows, ice, Ace bandages, more ice, fluffier pillows and lots and lots of ibuprofen. The trial was the next day.

Ironically, the next day also happened to be my birthday.

I was definitely feeling older, and my body seemed eager to remind me I'm not the spring chicken I once was romping through fields without a care and jumping and climbing with reckless abandon.

Sigh. Those days are long gone.

The morning of the trial, I gimped to the start line with my dog and waited for the ready sign. I positioned Bailey and gave myself a considerable lead-out, knowing I had to take the shortest path possible or I was doomed.

But for all the pain, the worry and stress, something wonderful happened. Bailey ran like the wind and gave me the birthday present I wanted: She got a title. It was definitely the highlight of the weekend.

Unfortunately, it was to be our best run of the whole weekend.

It's not like I can keep up with my dog as it is, but the inability to at least be where she expected me to be threw her timing off even more. I was one slow mama.

When the weekend was over, I went back to the fluffy pillows, the ice and lots and lots of ibuprofen. I even avoided classes in hopes of regaining my normal slow speed.

It's been two weeks now, and apparently the fear of going to the doctor -- with visions of needles dancing in my head -- got me feeling more like my "old" self.

The experience has been quite an eye opener for me. It's made me deal with the harsh realities of my own aging -- something I've tried to avoid for the most part.

On the other hand, it's opened a window of opportunity in learning how to work with Bailey in new and different ways -- namely from a distance.

Good thing, too. The next trial is less than a week away, so I guess you could say I'm off and not running.

See, you can teach an old (and even wounded) dog new tricks!

I have a feeling it's going to be a long, interesting summer.

Dori Lynn Anderson is the features editor for the Clarion.

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