August 18, 2014 by Julia West
As I reflect on this year’s Nationals, one things stands out – the people. I know that folks from every breed probably say this, but Boxer people are the best. The performance group at Nationals is part family, part sorority (boys allowed), and part something I can’t quite describe. And the initiation process? Simple – show up and contribute.
My first Nationals was at the Drawbridge in 2009. It feels like it was yesterday and a lifetime ago. In March, an online discussion cropped up with people talking about their plans to attend Nationals. I was digitally lamenting that it sounded like fun and I wished I could go. I got a message from a woman I’d been talking to for years but had never met. She said if I bought a plane ticket, she had an extra bed and insisted “This isn’t a dog show, it’s a pilgrimage.”
Two months later, I met Renee Fulcer for the first time when she pulled up to the airport. She came up and gave me a big, welcoming hug that set the tone for my first Nationals experience. At the Friday night match, she introduced me to the usual suspects. The group was welcoming and eager to include me and make sure I met everyone. Tracy Henderickson made a point of introducing me (as “Judy”) to… Renee. Tracy probably doesn’t remember it, but it stands out to me for two reasons: #1. Tracy mishearing my name as Judy struck me as funny (and much preferable to “Julie”). #2. Performance folks were so enthusiastic about including me that I was introduced to my own roommate.
I spent time helping out where I could, asking questions, being asked questions, and generally soaking it all in. I was even lucky enough to steward in one of the most memorable Team performances in recent history. (If you have not seen it, search YouTube for “When Pigs Fly… Boxers Do Obedience”. It is a must-see.)
Towards the end of the weekend, Bobbi Compton asked if I’d be attending the Regionals in Maryland since it was just a 4 hour drive from me. Before I could answer her, Renee chimed in with something to the effect of “If she doesn’t send an entry in, I’m sending one in for her.” A few days after arriving, I flew home – exhausted, happy, and completely hooked.
This year was much like my first Nationals. I couldn’t drive out and compete, but I was invited to fly in and bunk with a friend. Once again, it was a woman I’d “known” for years online but had never met face to face. Instead of being introduced around, I was warmly welcomed back. I missed last year’s Nationals, so I was thrilled to be back with “my people.”
It was great to see a few newcomers mixed into the crowd. During the all-breed day of agility, I sat next to a woman I didn’t recognize and introduced myself. Janet Ewing told me that she and her husband, Mark, were fairly new to competing in agility and this was their very first AKC trial. We chatted for a bit and she mentioned how welcoming and supportive everyone had been. Just as others had done for me, I introduced her to a few people and gave her encouragement.
My very favorite moment this year was on Boxer Only day of agility. During the last classes of the day, when energy is starting to flag, we like to cheer loudly for the teams. Every small success – taking a jump, completing an obstacle – we give a little whoop. You can see both dog and handler start to be infected by the enthusiasm. The smiles (on both team members) get a little bigger, the running a little faster, the bounces a little bouncier. This year sticks out in my mind because we happened to start when Mark was running Shiloh. Seeing a “new” team experience our little tradition made me appreciate the wonderful community that we have.