Victories come in a lot of shapes and sizes. Sometimes its a win meaning you were the best on the day in the eyes of the judge(s). Sometimes its something that may seem more minor to the masses but to you is quite significant. Sometimes its just that you finished the course, sometimes its getting your dog to the top of the field clean for the first time. Each of us is experiencing our own struggle and challenge, lets be there for one another through that…  

This sheepdog world is funny. I get asked all the time why more young people aren’t involved in the sheepdog community. At 37 I’m one of the youngest people in the US who competes in the open class, and I’m one of three people who I can think of in their 20’s-30’s who competes consistently competitively in the open. Last year the average age of the English team was 38. Quite a comparison. The funny thing about people asking me here is that they tend to not really like the answer. The first thing I say is that the reason that there’s not more young people in this sport is that the majority of the sport refuses to have any respect for people younger than them. I’ve faced that reality for over two decades, and I can only imagine what others face. On top of the entries being expensive and distances we travel being so vast, its no wonder why we don’t have more younger people competing. The younger generations in the US are the most educated and the least paid in the history of the US. Recreation takes a back seat in that reality. And when a young person sacrifices all of that to try and excel in the venue that they love, with little to no disposable income and limited resources… that means a lot.

For a long time I would do what it took to win a trial. Winning was a lot to me because I saw that the people around me respected the winners. Winning meant that you were the best on the day. I believed that for a long time. What I didn’t understand was that people looked at me as a child who was so desperate to win that he’d do anything and everything. That was the perception. The reality was that I practiced harder, trained harder, asked more questions, read more books and did more research than anyone that I knew at the time. When I was 18 I had a competitive summer that I’ve never had before. I went undefeated in overall competitions from April till September. I didn’t win Meeker, but I was in the finals. But I won ever other trial I entered in overall standings. I haven’t had a year like that in a long time. The thing that makes that year so memorable is that when I’d be walking to my car after the trial, I’d hear people congratulating everyone else… except me. It made me feel like I had to be apologetic about my success. Like somehow I should feel sorry for doing well. That’s not a very good feeling to an 18 year old kid who had battled with feelings of inadequacy and abandonment his whole life…  And it wasn’t the first time and it wasn’t the last that I would feel that way. Just last weekend someone tried to make me feel bad about winning a trial. This person criticized the way I ran my dog because my dog was running through the bit (thats the last time I give Nell Wheaties before we run!) and I took control to ensure that she treated the sheep the way I wanted them treated… It bothered me for about a minute until I realized that her reason for trying to bully me was based in insecurity and inadequacy. She never would have said this to another competitor, but she did because she thought she could bully me… I didn’t respond in a way that was rude,  and that was my moment of realizing that I was growing up; recognizing that the person in front of me who was trying to come across as a friend, was really trying to manipulate me and make me feel bad about something I should have been proud of. That is not the kind of person my who I want in my tribe. My people are the kind of people who congratulate you on your success and lift you up when you’re down. That’s my tribe. 

What this boils down to is that sometimes people have to learn to not be apologetic. I watched quite a bit of the Olympics last year and one thing that I really loved was that the people who were the front runners for the medals had no apologies about it. They gave credit to their talent, their coaches, their efforts and their training so that they didn’t discredit the reality behind being a winner. Everyone is unique and has something to set them apart from the crowd of competitors that lies outside the realm of competition. Maybe you’re a woman in a sport dominated by men, maybe you’re a racial minority, maybe you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community etc.. but if you gain the attention of the spotlight, what is important is your effort that goes into what you’re trying to achieve. As a kid I never really thought about the fact that I was the youngest competitor out there (until Haley Howard came on the scene and dominated everyone) because I looked at myself as just another competitor. But what I didn’t realize in my youthful ignorance was that I was viewed as a child in an adult’s sport. A perception that I still struggle with today even though I’m fast approaching 40. But, finally, it seems like the tide is changing. 

One thing that I really loved about competing at the World Championships last year was that I got the chance to see others who are young, competitive and respected in their own countries. At one point I was sitting between national, international and continental champions and I wasn’t the youngest one there. They rose through the ranks of competitive excellence with the support and admiration of those more experienced around them and then they rose to the top. When I was among them we talked about dogs, the sheep the competition and the reason behind point losses. Good shepherding and stockman-ship was the foundation and individual judgement was out the window. Nobody was overheard saying “Well he does well but his parents buy his dogs from overseas” (something that I was falsely accused of several times) because to make an excuse for their quality of work would be to negate the integrity of the competition. 

Sometimes in society it seems like we strive so hard to be recognized by our peers, but once we gain the spotlight we crumble under the criticism. And, now more than ever, I really hope that we can change that. Excellence shouldn’t be something that we should ever apologize for. Winning a competition comes through a fight both internal and external. And as long as there’s integrity behind your win, as long as you didn’t take a baseball bat to someone’s knee or sabotaged someone in some other way, then you should be proud of that victory. And winning doesn’t mean that you’re first. Sometimes winning is just getting further along than you ever have before, sometimes it means you didn’t miss the cross drive gate, or maybe you got that shed you’ve always been working for. Sometimes it might just mean that you woke up, got dressed and walked to the post one more time. Whatever your victory, never apologize for that because that is something you’ve earned and you deserve to feel proud.  


Time for shameless self promotion! If you would like to support me on my journey to Wales to compete in the “A Way With Dogs” televised sheepdog trial please click this link. Any and all support is greatly appreciated. I really hope that my journey through this world benefits everyone else as much as it fulfills my life! Much love! https://www.gofundme.com/5hvris0&rcid=r01-153263872087-3c6e5e2203e4420d&pc=ot_co_campmgmt_w

  • Karen Thompson
    Posted at 21:23h, 26 July Reply

    Beautifully written Derek and a powerful and poignant message. In faith and peace, Karen

  • Tammy Remillard
    Posted at 21:37h, 26 July Reply

    We don’t see a lot of the competitions but love when you post your runs. We are always so proud of you. You are an amazing young man and your love for animals is something that makes you so special. Keep doing you because you are the est!

  • Nancy Creel
    Posted at 00:15h, 27 July Reply

    Keep writing Derek. You are awesome and honest and very good at what you do. I really like ypur point about the Olympic medalists. Acknowledge your coaches and mentors but be fing pround of your own hard work. No apologies!!

  • Carolyn Crocker
    Posted at 06:53h, 27 July Reply

    Eye opening and thoughtful writings. Thanks for sharing your experiences and personal take on them.

    I wish you well on your trip and enjoy the experience. Looking forward to your reports.

  • Terri Nicolau
    Posted at 15:03h, 27 July Reply

    Congrats on your win! Keep up your positive attitude! You are always so positive to those learning to do this!

  • Susan Henzel-Speer
    Posted at 17:49h, 27 July Reply

    Well done! Your points are ones everyone of us should remember as we get up each day!

  • Lou Degregorio
    Posted at 20:04h, 27 July Reply

    Well said Derek, happens way too often. Hard sometimes to remember these points when you’re in the wrong place. Sometimes too much unsolicited advice at the wrong time does more damage than help. Difficult to stand on your own plan and be your own person, remembering the positive.

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