Saturday, September 13, 2008

Big Dogs

The other day Boss and I ran errands.

Now before you think I am one of those crazy people that drives around with their 10 pound accessory dog like it’s a small child (I do) – let me just put this out there: one of the errands was taking Boss to the vet to get his nails clipped.

This is not a post about Boss getting his nails clipped. But I’ll talk about it anyways. You see, I take him to the vet to get nails clipped because count them – 4 paws, 5 sharp nails and 1 small dog that yips any time you touch a paw. Let the vet take the responsibility of clipping off an entire paw. That’s not a risk I’m going to take from a dog that will spend the rest of its life (I learned today he could live 18 years) eyeing me down like paw killer if I nip him.

So we’re driving around, we do a little post office, a little vet, a little bike shop, a little coffee and since we were driving by it we might as well do a little dog park. A new dog park. Not the usual one. Our forest preserve district has about 4 dog parks spread throughout the county. I grab my coffee and my small dog – we enter the new dog park. And quickly I see. Oh. It’s mostly a large-dog dog park. I get it. We don’t belong.

Large dog owners are not like small dog owners. Large dog owners name their dogs names like Molly and Grace. People names. They hate leashes, bring gallons of water for their dogs and don't mind picking up poop larger than they humanly make. Small dog owners are fluffy and noncommittal. They wanted a dog but weren’t sure if they were ready for the full thing. Enter the sub 10 pound dog. They give this dog names like Sarge, Champ or Chief. Solid names to show that just because I’m tiny doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rip your rear paw off if given the chance.


Try me.

Large dog or small dog, at this dog park I don’t care. After all, I paid my annual fee to become a county dog park permit card carrying member. I’m legal and so is my small dog. Boss walks around on the woodchips which I realize become like quicksand for his tiny feet. He cannot run. So instead he rolls himself in animal poo. Brilliant, Boss. Brilliant. Way to represent for the small dogs.

Out of the woods, a few German shepherds emerge. Two owners sit at a nearby picnic table. Boss goes over to mingle with the large dogs. I apologize to the owner assuring him that Boss has no idea how small he is and likes big dogs. The owner says something about Boss having a nice personality and starts throwing a ball. The dogs bolt. Boss follows as they all chase a tennis ball.

After a few more sessions of chase, I lead Boss off on to the path. We took a little hike. No leash, he followed me. He sniffed, I sipped (coffee). We made a full loop before Boss ran up to a man walking towards us with his two (large) dogs. One is a mutt that ran past us. The other is a Rhodesian Ridgeback that has busied himself by doing crazy laps on the 6 foot wide path making circles in a circumference of something so small I wanted to tell the dog to stop chasing itself.

The owner and I exchange pleasantries and Boss runs up to him for some pets.

“You’re too small to be in this park,” he says to Boss.

He is petting Boss but cautiously warning me that Boss is too small, too little, will get lost at the dog park. I laugh it off and try to convince Boss to walk the other way with me. Instead he runs to the man’s dogs to play with them. They chase each other on the trail when the man again says something about Boss being small to play with those dogs I scoop him up and walk away.

Boss and I continue down a different path, he leashless and happy, me lost in thought. What’s with the labeling? “You’re too this or that” as for why he can’t do things. Was my small dog being a big problem to the other dogs? Was he doing something wrong? Who says he can’t play with the big dogs?


So it got me to thinking. You see, Boss has no idea that he’s small. He knows he is a dog. Sometimes I am not even sure of that. But he has no idea that he shouldn’t run with the big dogs. He has no idea that when you throw a tennis ball, it’s probably useless for him to even chase because it’s too big for him. He has no idea this park was suitable for big dogs but like black hole for any dog small.

I suppose ignorance is bliss because Boss is loving the dog park and proving to me he can do a lot of things. And he just seems to adapt. He figures it out, I see him do it every day. Sometimes when he runs with the big dogs he has to run faster to get away. Or he gets run over by a big paw and has to regroup after he takes a belly roll. He realizes what he lacks in speed he makes up for in the fake left, go right nimble agility. If a big dog is too overbearing, he barks right in its face. And when it all gets to be too much he just sits down, takes a break and ignores the bigger dog.

As far as being small, Boss seems to be doing quite well.

We have lots of labels, don’t we? We put limiters on people all of the time. I especially see this with women. Women are small, not as fast, not as strong, right? And so they hold back. Or think they have to hold back. How many times have you as a woman been on a group ride and felt like maybe I should just sit back here and not rock the boat. Because taking a pull or making a move could light up the rage of 20 angry men not willing to be beat by something half their size. Maybe I really can’t do it and shouldn’t even try.

Anyways, it’s safe to say a lot of us – like Boss – are the underdog. We are labeled as less likely, too small, not fast enough, not strong enough, not a threat. And because of the way we look or appear, we have all sorts of assumptions made about us. Especially physically. When someone asks what Ironman I’ve done I say Kona. When they ask if I won a slot in the lottery I want to say…seriously? What about me doesn’t look like I couldn’t be strong or fit or fast enough to qualify? Is there is a certain look to "fast"?

People try to place all sorts of limitations on what we can do based on how we look or how we are built. Even worse, we place them on ourselves. “I’ll never be a good swimmer because I’m too small.” Bull sh*t! Look at Eileen Swanson. She’s teeny tiny and swims like a fish. “I’ll never run fast because I’m too big.” Again – lies! Look at Hillary Biscay – she is not built like a traditional runner, and she just won Ironman. Let’s bring it closer to you - how many times has your coach given you a tight interval to hit and you thought to yourself – no way. No way and in fact – why even try. You’ve closed the door before the workout has even begun.


But what if you opened up yourself to the possibility?

One of my athletes did this the other day. She asked to do a 5K. I said ok under one condition: you have to average sub – x:xx miles. It was an ambitious goal and one I knew she would have to work hard mentally and physically to nail. What did she do? She went out there and blew away my suggestion by 48 seconds per mile. She opened up the possibility to herself, a doorway of sub-x:xx miles and she flew right through.

How? I’m guessing she just went out there thinking about what she could do rather than what she couldn’t do. I’m guessing she finally just made up her mind about herself, stopped second guessing who she is and what she’s capable of. If she’s like most of us, I bet she has spent a lifetime hearing about what she cannot do. For that matter what any of us cannot do. Perhaps even believing what people tell us about you’re too short for this, too tall for that, too old, too skinny, too heavy, too….fill in your blank. What have you been told? Sometimes it helps though to close your ears to all of that. It’s like Boss being small. I’m sure he sees that there are larger dogs. But I’m guessing dogs don’t bark about what little and big dogs can and cannot do. They just go out there and do. They open themselves up to anything. And then they adapt.

I’ve never believed the “you’re too small” or too anything to do something. Admittingly, when I hear something like that it makes me want to go after it even more. Maybe that is what Boss thinks too. You see, I’ve spent months throwing a normal sized tennis ball at my dog at the park. He cannot pick it up. He loves to chase it and then does a loop around it when he gets to it and realizes – for the 100th time – that maybe there is no use. But the other day – he did it. He picked it up. No idea how something with a circumference bigger than his head fit into his mouth but he got it. And then did it again.

Each week I find a quote and I think about it. This week’s quote was in belief there is power. I have no idea what my dog believes. Or if he even gets that deep at all. But I know what I believe. And what my athletes believe. And I know that whatever we believe about ourselves is what is true. Whether it is smashing a mile pace, hitting an interval or picking up a big ball. Be careful of believing in what others say about you and what you can and cannot do. Go out there and define yourself. Leave the labels and limits to someone else.

So go out there and get after it. Put yourself in the big dog park and chase after whatever you want. It has nothing to do with limits and size but everything to do with what you believe and want for yourself.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

So true....People say that I should have done a flat IM course because of my height & weight. They say it is easier to get up hills when you are short and lighter. But, look, I just went a 10:53 and got into Kona...I think they are eating their words now...=)

Jen

Kim said...

I absolutely love this post. It really is so true about boss, and about all of us. I don't know where we got the idea that we have to be limited by others thoughts and ideas, and even by ourselves. People do amazing things every day, things they were never "supposed to" or things people never thought they could. No limits.. not any more. Thanks for sharing. You're posts always rock.

Jennifer Cunnane said...

Great post! Thanks for the thoughts - will carry them with me into next week as I prepare for an LT test on the bike and try to overcome my mental block on the run!

TRIHARDCHIK said...

I love your writing--you definitely have a gift. Plus, you really make me laugh--and think!

I don't look like a triathlete, but for my age and physical limitations, I do OK. I know when people see me, they are always surprised to hear how well I do, especially on the bike.

I so agree with your thinking--I know not believing in myself has limited my successes. I hope that even at my advanced age (53) I can continue to get better and be more confident. Thanks so much for the encouragement--you sound like a great coach!

IronMatron said...

I love the line about Boss not representing the little dogs with his rolling... haha! Of course, in his mind having that special scent makes him one with the others--or maybe even superior?
"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." Belief is a rather amazing power.
You write so well, Elizabeth.

Wes said...

One thing triathlon has taught me, never underestimate women nor people twice (half) your years in age :-)

I've said this before. I'll say it again. I don't know what's going to happen on November 1st, or any other day for that matter. What I do know is, I believe!!

karinsull said...

I love this post. Ten years ago, when I borrowed a friend's rollerblades to give them a try, two other friends actually laughed at me because I was so unsporty and the image just didn't fit. Even though I've done a triathlon now, I still have to constantly convince myself that I'm at least a little bit of an athlete. I also need to stop comparing myself to my husband the Ironman, who's a REAL athlete. Maybe I can do more than I think I can....

Flatman said...

Boss is the bomb. He teaches me so many lessons...thanks to both of you for this post. It means a lot.

Muppetdog said...

Well said!

And it's great Boss is so comfortable with all odgs - it's awesome to find a little (or would he prefer vertically challenged?) dog that has real social skills with other dogs no matter what their size! I can't tell you how many larger react to my husband's giant breed dog in not-so-friendly ways.