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Talking with... Suzanne Wesley

The next in a series of interviews with USDAA IFCS World Agility Championship team members. By Brenna Fender


The 2010 World Agility Championships are fast approaching. USDAA will send a terrific team to Clevedon, North Sommerset in the United Kingdom for the event that runs from May 14-16 at the Hand Equestrian Centre. Team members include Angie Benacquisto with Duncan and Dylan, Daneen Fox and Masher, Janelle Julyan and Eve, Rhonda Koeske and Tack, Elise Lynch and Ting, Kate Moureaux and Driven, Stephanie Spyr and Rage, Rosanne DeMascio and Drifter, Dudley Fontaine and Maverick, Ann Zarr and Skylar, Suzanne Wesley and Sonic, and coach Stacy Peardot-Goudy. To celebrate our team, we'll be doing periodic interviews with team members.

When Suzanne Wesley was asked to join the IFCS team this year, it was to replace Elizabeth Evans and Hemi. Hemi suffered an injury and Elizabeth stepped aside for the good of the team since she wasn't sure that Hemi would be in top shape in time for competition. Suzanne and her Poodle, Sonic, are experienced competitors (they did a fantastic job on the 2008 team) who will serve the team well in Elizabeth and Hemi's absence.

In real life, Suzanne is a legal assistant in Pensacola, Florida. When not training and trialing in agility, she participates in dock diving, flyball, and, occasionally, herding. She also enjoys landscaping and gardening.

Brenna Fender (BF): How did your family and friends react to your making the IFCS team?

Suzanne Wesley (SW): My mother (who always thought I was crazy) still thinks I'm crazy after all these years of having dogs! [Suzanne laughs]  But she sure was proud when I told her I made the USA team once again.  She adores Sonic and thinks he is such a great athlete.  Of course my friends are just tickled and very excited for us... most especially my good friend Kim, my agility friends, and all the "agility poodle people" like Helen King and so many others who have been wonderfully supportive!  Thank you guys.  You are the best!

BF: Will a friend or family member travel with you to the event?

SW: I usually travel with my friend Kim Duff, but she is taking her husband to England this year.  However, they will both be at the event cheering us on and that's a wonderful feeling to have great friends there supporting you!

BF: How tough did you find the qualification process to become a team member?

SW: We had our work cut out last year.  There were lots of great teams.  I had limited time off work but managed to squeeze in four events and the Nationals.  We came up a little short at the Nationals but had enough points to take fourth position in the team standings.

BF: How did this year's process compare to the qualification period in 2008?

SW: I liked this current year's process better.  The inclusion of the 4-Star events made it more convenient and less expensive to travel to certain Regionals to garner points.   I found extra teams competing as well which was great.  I love the competition!

BF: What is your goal for this year's event?

SW: To go out there and do our best!  I know Sonic will.  He always does.  I'm always rising to meet his standards!  Utmost in my mind is to have a smile on my face and huge hug for my best bud, Sonic, after each and every run!  He has given me so much joy in my life that I intend to treasure each moment.

BF: How would you describe your emotions as the event draws closer?

SW: Excited.  Not nervous about traveling or the event.  Well not yet.  When under extreme pressure to perform I seem to completely get "in the zone."  Something happens where I just don't feel anything but what's ahead of me.  I guess that comes from years and years of competing in sports back in Australia.  I was constantly in major competition and finals since the age of seven.  It teaches you a great deal about coping with stress. I hope that it kicks in again for England.

BF: You lived in Australia? What sports did you play there?

SW: I was born in Australia to European refugees after WWII.  They escaped Europe after the war and settled in Australia.

Australia is just a great place for kids to grow up.  Sports is the main stay in the education system.  One thing that does not take a hit when they are cutting back.   When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's and beyond a sport called "netball" was and probably is still extremely popular with girls and women of all ages.  It is the sport for girls to play!   Netball is similar to basketball but you do not dribble the ball.  It is a really fierce sport in Australia.  Extremely competitive! I'd love to still be able to join a team and play it now!   But I found something better to do with my dog.

I was a sprinter (my forte), I did a lot of other track and field sports (i.e. shot put, javelin, high jumping etc.), and I was on the swim team.   I played squash (racquetball you call it here), touch football (rugby) with a team of girls, and the list goes on! 

BF: How did you wind up in Florida?

SW: I was married to a American that I met in Tokyo, Japan.  I travelled the world extensively when I was younger and lived and worked in several countries.   While in Japan I met my then-husband.  He was in the military.  We moved to Bremerton, Washington for about one year.  Too cold and wet.  Blah!  I'm a beach bunny so the Seattle area was a no-go.   My ex got a choice of places to go so we went to the city that was the most far south we could get, and that was Pensacola, Florida.  Although San Diego was on the list as well, but the military gave us Pensacola. 

BF: What is your greatest concern about the trip to the UK for the event?

SW: I think, like with most of the competitors, we are hoping that all our documentation is in order as we have heard they are very strict about having all the correct paperwork before you enter the United Kingdom.

BF: What do you think will be the most difficult part of the competition itself?

SW: Don't let the mistakes get to you too badly.  They can happen and do happen to anyone. You just have to brush it off even at the world level.  At the WAC in Belgium in 2008, Sonic and I really had a great weekend and medalled twice in individual events, however, in the last run of the weekend with our team medal on the line I bombed a sequence and we lost our medal placement.  I could have died.  I had let the team down!  I haven't had a feeling like that in a long, long time.  It took about 30 minutes to brush it off (which is a long time for me), and then suddenly I thought, "Hey, 'stuff happens.'  It just wasn't meant to be, but look where we are and look what we've done!  And even if we didn't do anything that weekend, we had done our best and I have the greatest dog to be with!  Sometimes we have to step back from those mistakes and see the big picture.  It is not only the winning; more importantly, it's all about the journey you take to and from that place!

BF: What do you expect to be fairly easy or smooth?

SW: Well, the socializing!  I travelled Europe and Great Britain extensively when I was younger.  I was born in Australia but have a European background - my mother is Polish and my father was born in Yugoslavia.  The easy part of this whole competition is meeting all the competitors from those different countries.  I enjoy the interaction.   And, of course, I am excited to see my mates from Australia as well.

BF: Any other comments?

SW: I would like to express my heartfelt sympathies for Elizabeth Evans and her dog Hemi. Elizabeth and Hemi were on the 16" team to go to England, however, Hemi sustained an injury and Elizabeth had to pull.  Elizabeth and Hemi are one of the best teams in this height division and were well deserved of being on the team.  She had worked so hard for this and we all recognize what a great team they are.  I just wanted to say how sorry I am that this has happened to Hemi!  I hope we can do them proud!

Brenna Fender is the editor for the USDAA's subscriber services portion of the website.  She is also a freelance writer, wife, and parent of two dogs and two children.  Please contact Brenna at Bfender@usdaa.com with comments, questions, or submissions.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and J.P. Evans.

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