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Agility in a Para-llel Universe

What  a year of agility shows has taught me

Just seven  months after becoming only the second handler in the UK to have used a wheelchair when competing in agility, Philippa Armstrong exceeded expectation and won her first competition.  A long time advocate of equal opportunities, Philippa is now practicing what she preached. Here's what she's learned so far.


Zippy zips by remote control (Photo: Alistair Davis)

blue01That no matter what speed I am doing, I always look stationary in a photograph.

green02That queuing is a doddle when youıve got a chair. And I never finish a round out of breath, but Portaloos are inaccessible.

orange03Running surfaces vary vastly. I categorise them as:-

  • Billiard table
  • Bumpy
  • Bone shaker (My apologies to Geraldine Chubb. 'Up, ****** it. Stop!ı is not my usual A-frame command and yes, Zippy probably was trying to work out what  command '****** itı was as she headed for the seesaw rather than the jump!)
  • Too rough to run
  • Wet
  • Slippery
  • Only with an outboard motor

purple04If whilst running in a wet field you (unintentionally) slide your wheelchair sideways past the judge, it makes their eyes light up... or was that pop out?

cyan05That dogs are far better at reading body language than some people, who are nonetheless fascinated by my body! Not, however, the drop dead gorgeous ones who I would love to be fascinated, I wish. The small minority of 'Whatıs wrong with you then?ı questioners, who when I reply 'Nothingı still persist, mystified or disbelieving. They reword the question to ask about my medical history.  At this point they also generally miss my body language cue so huge my dogs would be running for cover. Well Iım sorry if they think I am rude not wanting to discuss what I consider to be a private matter, the feelingıs mutual. Like everyone else, being asked relevant questions is fine, it's the ones I feel to be intrusive, asked out of curiosity that make me uncomfortable.

red06Also I'm sure it's well meant when I'm occasionally told Iım 'marvellousı simply for being there; but I have different expectations. I'm there to compete equally. When I first started using my bog standard powered wheelchair I quickly realised it responded too slowly. Great for not cracking people in the shins in the supermarket, but not quick enough for agility.

In order to get a specialised sports wheelchair, I contacted all the major sports funding bodies. Unfortunately, apparently, 'agility is not a sportı!  Ummm...  Undeterred I turned to local charities and put out an appeal for assistance. People were generous, for which I am grateful, and I now have my sports wheelchair. It has levelled the playing field. We are now competitive, and hopefully we will do our bit to pave the way for more disabled athletes to follow. I suspect, however, that the legacy of the connection between disabled people and charity means that it will take a little longer before I am generally perceived as an equal competitor.

yellow07And finally, I've learnt that that when the scribe writes 'C' it is for Clever dog, but that when they write 'E', it is not for Excellent! And that less is, in fact, more in the 'dogs time' box.  

I'm looking forward to next season.

About the author
Philippa Armstrong  lives in Totnes with her dogs, and two children who boomerang in and out of her life and home at intervals.

She was born in Plymouth in 1960. She was then and is now never happier than when she is surrounded by animals. After hill farming for a few years, she graduated in 1992 from Manchester Polytechnic with a BA (Hons.) in Landscape Design, going on to practice in Exeter as a Landscape Architect. She later ran her own Disability Consultancy, delivering Disability Equality Training. She now practices what she preached, competing equally in dog agility.

As a disabled person she would not change a thing about herself, but would change much about the society in which we live. She has had Border Collies for seven years and as her arthritis has progressed, become adept at finding creative ways of training them.  Seven months after becoming only the second handler in the UK to have used a wheelchair when competing in agility she exceeded expectation and won her first competition. She is now confidently looking forward to seeing how much more she can achieve.

Photo: Alistair Davis