Man With Serious Neurological Disorder Competes In World’s Largest Agility Event

An Englishman battling a painful and uncommon neurological disorder is to compete at the world’s largest agility event, the Kennel Club International Agility Festival, and says his success is due to his sheepdog and his new partner. 

Mark Leybourne, from Darlington, in County Durham, has been helped through his battle with Parsonage Turner Syndrome thanks to his love of agility and his dog, Ems, a working sheepdog. Leybourne and Ems will compete in the Kennel Club International Agility Festival, in England, for the first time this year. 

In March 2014, Leybourne (50) started suffering from severe pain in his shoulder. Shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with  Parsonage Turner Syndrome, also known as brachial neuritis. The exact cause the syndrome is unknown. It is believed to be caused by an abnormality of the immune system. Leybourne said that was “the most painful week of my life.” He explained “A virus decided to nibble away at my nervous system taking out my right shoulder. I couldn't drive, ride my mountain bike, or generally get about. The pain could last for a few hours to a few weeks and is followed by wasting and weakness of the muscles in the affected area.”

Shortly after his diagnosis, Leybourne met his partner, Joanne. Leybourne believes that she has been his savior, running around after him, and, most importantly, introducing him to dogs and agility.

“When I met Joanne, Ems was naughty and, at six years old, Joanne had decided agility wasn’t for her,” Leybourne said. “I started training with Ems with my arm strapped up. It was great to get out and be able to exercise and build up a great relationship with Ems. I love agility and I’m really looking to competing at the International Agility Festival this year.”

After training in agility for almost 12 months, Leybourne received test results, in December 2014, that showed his nervous system had started to repair. He is slowly on the road to recovery.

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary said “Mark’s story highlights the range of benefits of having a hobby such as agility. Not only is it good for your dog to keep active but also it improves mobility of the owner.

“The International Agility Festival is the largest agility festival in the world. Anyone can enter their dog in the show and it’s a fantastic event for both competitors and spectators alike. We wish Mark all the best for the festival.”

The International Agility Festival will be held at Rockingham Castle in Rockingham, from Thursday, August 13 until Sunday, August 16. More than 2,700 dogs of all types, sizes and experience levels, will compete across 16 agility rings, with dogs jumping and weaving their way around the various courses. 

For more information on the festival, visit the Kennel Club website.