Posted Date: December 22, 2016
A story of two teams - an Agility class and an Olympic rowing team.
by Elise Paffrath
(This story first appeared at http://www.breezethruagility.com/GoldMedalClass.htm. Reprinted here with kind permission of Elise Paffrath.)
It's not often that one gets to feel an Olympic Gold medal in their hand, all .8 pounds of it. Let alone hang it around their dog's neck and best of all experience an actual connection to the Olympic athlete and her teammates who won the gold!
On a mid September Monday night this fall one very special group of agility dogs and their devoted handlers at Breeze Thru Agility got to hold, admire, and try an Olympic Gold medal on themselves and their dogs. Not just any random Olympic medal, mind you, but an esteemed third-straight Gold won by an invincible team known simply as "the U.S. Women's Eight." Adding to the excitement was the realization that while having fun training our dogs together, we actually ended up playing a role in the lives of the members of this rather amazing Olympic team leading up to their big race in Rio.
It all started a year ago this fall with a somewhat motley crew of beginner agility dogs--an Australian Cattle Dog (adopted after failing to make the grade at a cattle ranch), three Bernese Mountain Dogs and an English Bulldog (each of those being somewhat atypical breeds in the agility world)--and their owners all embarking on a new agility training journey. Over the weeks and months these dog and handler teams made incredible progress . . . honing their handling skills, learning, laughing, cheering each other on and all the while having a whole lot of fun together!
U.S. Olympic rowing team member Tessa Gobbo poses with her dog,
Frankie, and her gold medal on her visit to Breeze Thru Agility.
Last January, a few months into their training, one of the Berner owners, Linda Gobbo, of West Chesterfield, NH, started taking videos of all the dogs running the exercises and courses in class and sending them to her daughter, Tessa, an Olympic hopeful rower training with her teammates in Chula Vista, CA, at the US Olympic Training Center.
Breeze Thru Agility student Pete Schor holds Tessa Gobbo's
Olympic Gold medal up for a close-up shot with his cell phone.
"I would send them a dog agility class video or picture every day until I ran out of the weeks agility photos and videos and would come to class on Monday to generate more," Linda recounted. "Tessa LOVES looking at this stuff and started to share them with one or two of her teammates and soon they all got excited about it. They were all in SUCH a stressful situation with training that this was always a fun thing for them," Linda explained. "For better or worse, the bloopers were their favorites!"
Linda continued to video everyone's runs in class each week, having one of us video her running her own dog, and then shed send them out to Tessa as she and her teammates trained in Princeton, NJ, at the National Training Center, then as they traveled to Lucerne, Switzerland, to compete in the World Cup II races. One week Linda didn't take any new videos and her daughter and the team were very disappointed. Linda didn't make that mistake again and diligently recorded runs--the good and the bad--of her own agility athlete, Bernese Mountain Dog, Frankie, as well as Corrie, Pam Skinner's Australian Cattle Dog, Bernese Mountain Dogs Chloe and Haley owned and handled by Joanne Brown and Abby Ortiz, and the stout powerhouse Daisy, Pete Schor's English Bulldog.
Pete Schor's dog, Daisy, sports the Olympic Gold medal
(which weighs .08 lbs by the way) while classmates Pam Skinner
and Corrie look on.
The Olympic team returned from Switzerland and soon-after Linda received word that Tessa had made the cut to be a member of the U.S. Women's Eight rowing team Olympians going to Rio! The team headed to New Jersey for more training, went up to Dartmouth, NH, in early July to get out of the heat and train for two weeks before they finally left for Rio the third week in July. While we missed Linda in class during the August Olympics, it was exciting to think of her in the spectator stands in Rio cheering on her daughter's team.
Then came the thrilling news that Tessa's team had WON THE GOLD!!! I emailed the entire class about the exciting victory. "Stunning," Daisy's handler, Pete, replied, "makes you think anything is possible." Little did any of us know that we'd become entertainers for an invincible team who by crossing the finish line at Rio's Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon that day in 6 minutes, 1.49 seconds, clinched their third straight gold medal and 11th consecutive World and Olympic championship for the U.S. in this event since 2006!!! The U.S. Women's Eight, Time Magazine reports, "may well be the most dominant Olympic team you've never heard of."
One Monday night a few weeks after the amazing race, Linda arrived at class saying that Tessa would be coming by to visit us with her gold medal! When Tessa walked into Breeze Thru part-way through the class, Frankie erupted gleefully, veered off the course he'd been running in the ring with Linda to greet our class celebrity, and his human family member, with great fervor! Though none of us had ever met Tessa, she of course knew every single dog and their human handler from watching all those videos all those weeks during training! We each touched, held and marveled in awe at Tessa's Olympic medal. And the cell phones came out as everyone took pictures and took turns trying the precious revered gold around their dogs' necks.
What a thrill to realize that we, four humble human dog handlers, their amazing canine agility athletes, and one fortunate agility instructor ended up playing a small role in the lives of such a very special Olympic team leading up to the big race in Rio. How cool it was to think about Tessa and her teammates enjoying our dog agility antics via video as they trained for Rio and to realize that our Monday night canine fun brought a bit of much-needed comic relief into what must have been a very intense pre-Olympic time for the team.
Indeed, Linda reported, "All of the dogs entertained a very stressed out crowd of athletes every week as they trained for Rio. We all did our part to support the U.S. Olympic womens rowing team," she continued, "and for that the agility dogs deserve to wear a medal even if only for a little while."
The Monday night Olympic Gold medal class poses with visiting Olympian,
Tessa Gobbo. From left to right, Tessa and her Mom, Linda Gobbo with
Bernese Mountain Dog, Frankie, Pam Skinner with Australian Cattle Dog,
Corrie, Pete Schor and English Bulldog, Daisy, \wearing the gold medal,
and Joanne Brown and Bernese Mountain Dog, Chloe.
Photos by Joanne Brown and Elise Paffrath