Posted Date: August 12, 2016
A profile of Title Mania Competitor Steffi Diem and her dog Inara.
We've all met some very interesting people competing in agility. From doctors and lawyers to scientists and physicists, this sport truly runs the gamut of diversity. One of the nicest and least suspecting competitors around these days is Steffi Diem from Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Steffi not only competes with a non-traditional breed on nights and weekends, by day she works as an Experimental Plasma Physicist working on fusion energy. She specializes in modeling high-power microwave systems to optimize the heating of plasmas (4th state of matter) to millions of degrees, or basically to temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun.
Steffi and her seven-year-old Alaskan Klee Kai, Inara took time away from their busy schedules to compete at Title Mania earlier this summer.
Steffi said, "I had so much fun at Title Mania. I really enjoy the atmosphere at larger USDAA events (Cynosport and Regional Championships) so I was excited to see what Title Mania was all about. My favorite courses are the Master Challenge classes so it was great to have six Challenge courses at one event."
"I also loved the footing at the SPIRE Institute and the staff was very friendly and nice. It was also great to meet people from all over the US who came to Title Mania."
Even though Title Mania was a big event, Steffi kept her same goals as every other event with Inara - to be the best handler she can be and not get yelled at by Inara. A simple goal, but not as easy as it sounds since Inara is a sassy, opinionated girl. Steffi loves the instant feedback and always enjoys how much this entertains the judges.
To prepare for the event, Steffi and Inara practiced on a variety of Masters Challenge courses, since these tend to make Steffis "head explode" to the point of forgetting the course. She also created some courses on the fly with her friend and only gave herself a minute or two to walk the course.
For Inara, who isn't fond of doing more than two or three tight turns in a row, she and Steffi also spent lots of time on collection to make sure she stayed happy through several tight turns.
Alaskan Klee Kai are relatives to working huskies, so Inara likes to adhere to a specific daily schedule. Besides agility, Inaras next favorite activity is hiking. If Steffi is late for their daily hikes, Inara screams loudly and "punches" Steffi, always making her laugh. Inara is a great motivator and helps keep Steffi in shape.
Inara is Steffi's first agility dog and started in USDAA. At the beginning, Inara was terrified of contacts, so they spent a lot of time overcoming those fears. After their first trial, where they didnt even make time on a Starters course, they spent quite a bit of time working on confidence, both Steffi's and Inara's. That hard work led to increased speed on course.
Inara is also a perfectionist and doesn't like to be wrong, so Steffi worked hard to never let her know if they went off course. Steffi had to train herself to cheer Inara if she was late with a cue or takes the wrong obstacle. Steffi realized the key was to set little goals, not worry about the outcome and celebrate all the little things, like doing a few tight turns in a row without backtalk.
It was this attitude and goal that gave Steffi the confidence to try out for IFCS Team USA for 2017. Title Mania was their first time trying out for an international team. And even though her goal of being the best handler she could be for Inara, Steffi freaked out a little bit under all the pressure. She forgot to eat and obsessed over a Masters Challenge Jumpers course which resulted in some over-handling and an E.
They came back the next day and Steffi told herself that results don't matter. The only thing that mattered was doing her best for Inara. This kept Steffi relaxed and having fun and the end result was that Steffi and Inara made the team in the 16-inch jump height!
Steffi remembers, I really enjoyed cheering for the other team candidates and am extremely excited to be joining the 2017 IFCS Team USA! My favorite group to watch was the 26 dogs all the handlers were so supportive of each other. I also got to meet the other IFCS winners and they are all so talented and supportive of their canine partners.
When Steffi and Inara are not doing agility or hiking, they spend time at their home in Tennessee with Steffis husband, Aaron and their other dogs, Starbuck, Alpha Prime and Battlestar. Starbuck and Alpha Prime are also Alaskan Klee Kai and Battlestar is a Shetland Sheepdog.
Steffis favorite run from the Title Mania weekend was their winning Masters Snooker run. Typically, her Snooker plans focus on coming up with a course Inara will enjoy, not necessarily going for the max points to ensure a Super Q. It was a tough course and Inara did a great job, only yelling at Steffi a few times!
Congratulations to Steffi and Inara on representing the USA in Spain in 2017! They will spend their time between now and then preparing and training for the big event.