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Personality Profile: Elicia Calhoun (Part 1)

Deborah Davidson Harpur kicks off this new series of in-depth interviews starting with Elicia Calhoun, one of agility's most successful competitors. Learn about what makes Elicia a great trainer and a whole lot more!


Elicia Calhoun has been involved in dog agility since the early 1990s after she learned about the sport while on a quest to audition for a TV show featuring dogs. A very short time later she was at her first competition and was on her way to earning her first Grand Prix qualifying score. Later, agility would become her livelihood.

Elicia is a well-known competitor who has represented the USA for several different agility organizations. There is very seldom a year where one of her dogs has not made at least one of the final events at Cynosport, be it Grand Prix, Performance Grand Prix, Dog Agility Masters, or in the Veterans Showcase. She teaches seminars throughout the world and loves spending time with her dogs.

Besides her active agility life, which includes competing, writing books, and making agility videos, she is very busy with several charities.

Despite some physical limitations, some of which she has had for years (including a steel rod in her spine) and some of which are more recent, Elicia is known for giving it all on the agility field and for her positive outlook on life. It was a pleasure to learn more about Elicia and I hope you enjoy her insights and interview, which is exclusive to usdaa.com.


Name: Elicia Calhoun
Occupation: Waltzing Paws owner/dog agility coach/instructor/motivational seminars
Hometown: Born in Montclair, New Jersey. Raised in The Woodlands, Texas
Current location: Phoenix, Arizona
Current Dogs: Iceman (12.5-year-old Border Collie), BreeSea (9.5-year-old Border Collie), Tobie (3.5-year-old Border Collie) and Destiny (15-month-old Australian Shepherd)

Elicia and Tobie on course at the 2011 Cynosport World Games. Photo courtesy of Karen Moureaux, ContactPointPhotography.com.

Deborah Davidson Harpur: What accomplishments you are most proud of in the sport of agility?

Elicia Calhoun: My successes with my amazing Australian Shepherds, Suni and Nika, proving that you don't just have to have a Border Collie to be competitive.

Suni (ADCH NAC2 MACH5 Slydrocks Solar Power):

Five year member of the FCI/AKC World Agility Team (1999-2003). She was and still is the only Australian Shepherd to represent the USA at the FCI World Championships (earning both a team gold and bronze), and the first Aussie to win three national championships (two AKC and one USDAA).

Some of her big accomplishments:

2001 FCI World Championships team Gold Medal (Portugal) - the best team performance to date, just weeks after 9/11.

2003 FCI World Championships team Bronze Medal and 4th place individual finish (France).

AKC National Championship finalist for 10 years.

USDAA Grand Prix finalist for six years.

Performance Grand Prix 16" Champion.

Performance Grand Prix and Veteran finalist for three years.

USDAA Regional Dog Agility Masters Team winners, Performance Versatility Pairs, Grand Prix, and Performance Speed Jumping Championships.

Nika (ADCH MACH3 Toprocks La Femme Ewe-Nika):

In spite of losing her right eye after a two-and-a-half-year battle with cataracts, retina detachment, and glaucoma, she exemplified true pirate fighting spirit to compete at the top levels at home and across the pond. She gave people hope that what some might consider to be a handicap was nothing more than an additional challenge to work with. She ran with such joy and enthusiasm that most people who watched her run never realized that she had only one eye!

2009 and 2011 AKC Invitational Agility Championship - Top Australian Shepherd at event, finalist and overall second place 16" division.

2008 USDAA Performance Grand Prix finalist (three months after removing the eye).

2009 USDAA Grand Prix finalist - ninth place finish.

2010 AKC National finalist.

2009, 2010, 2011 European Open Agility team (Netherlands, Czech Republic, Austria).

2009 Fionia Cup finalist (Denmark).

2010 Dania Cup finalist (Denmark).

Personal Life:

How did you choose Phoenix, Arizona as your home?

I was living in and traveling across country in George (my RV) so that I wouldn't have to leave any dogs at home when I traveled. I happened to be in California at the time a friend who lives in Phoenix called me up and asked me to help her get her training facility up and running. Once I finished with that project I realized that living in an RV was getting old and Phoenix has a great airport, so I parked George and began calling Phoenix home.

If you could pick up and move anywhere with the wave of a magic wand, where would that be?

In my almost 20 years of teaching agility, I have had the privilege to experience so many amazing places in the world. The top of the list would include Switzerland, Maui (Hawaii), and Japan, but I wouldn't think twice if I could move to Australia.

Were you a good student in school?

Yes. I was an excellent student until I got to Cornell University, where I became an average student and really began to experience life. [Editor's note: Elicia majored in mechanical engineering.]

What types of activities did you enjoy when you were younger?

Photography, sailing, camping, hiking, swimming, modeling, and playing the flute.

What non-agility activities do you enjoy now?

Photography, hiking, and connecting with college friends. I'd like to get back to sailing, but there's a shortage of water here in Phoenix.

Are any of your family members involved in your current occupation?

Nope. They think I'm crazy.... Go figure!

What is one thing you would love to do, but are not so likely to ever do?

Be able to wear a thong bikini at a popular tropical resort and look like a model while doing so!

What is your guilty pleasure?

Raclette cheese.

What is the last book you read?

Energy Medicine by Donna Eden.

If you were on IN THE ACTORS STUDIO, what would your answers be to their infamous 10 questions?

1. What is your favorite word?

"Believe"

2. What is your least favorite word?

"Can't"

3. What turns you on?

An athletically fit and handsome man, with a great smile and eyes that reveal his soul, who is a genuinely good person....

4. What turns you off?

Seeing people be hateful and cruel to others.

5. What sound do you love?

Ocean waves breaking on the shore.

 6. What sound do you hate?

Nails down a chalkboard.

7. What is your favorite curse word?

Don't tell my parents... f**k.

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

Photography. I LOVED working with capturing one of life's moments and bringing it to life on paper.

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Truck driving - I feel like I've already done this.

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

WELCOME HOME! I have a few friends waiting for you at the bridge over there....

Charity:

You have several charitable organizations. Can you tell me a bit about them?

NCCF and the Suni Fund (wearethecure.org, sunifund.org) 

The NCCF is a nationwide, contribution funded, non-profit corporation dedicated to finding improved diagnostic methods to detect cancer in dogs at an early stage, better treatment for dogs with cancer, and ultimately, a cure for canine cancer. The Suni Fund donations go directly to the NCCF's Hemangiosarcoma research.

Why did you feel the need to start the organization?

To go from being at the top of our game with a shining future one weekend to the next weekend where Suni was fighting for her life was shocking. The diagnosis [of Hermangiosarcoma] being terminal and given only one-to-four weeks to live was devastating. And to be given no hope was infuriating. I didn't want anyone else to have to experience this gut-wrenching loss if I could do something about it.

I knew [that], through agility, Suni was so visible and such a role model for so many that people would relate to this loss and be willing to join the fight in finding a cure. There is power in numbers, so I knew that with everyone's help we could do something about canine cancer. I want everyone to have the chance to enjoy a full life with their dogs being healthy and aging gracefully, not being cut short by something like cancer. I look forward to the day we can identify, treat, and even prevent cancer in our dogs.

What do you get out of doing charity work?

Satisfaction of knowing that we are making progress in finding a cure and how it will help others in the future.

How do you feel YOU make a difference with your org?

With my travel and ability to reach so many people throughout the world, I know that I'm helping to raise awareness and support in this effort. We have chapters and groups of supporters throughout the United States [including Hawaii], The Netherlands, Germany, England, and Japan.

Let's talk about another issue you're involved in. We all know you were in a horrible car accident on June 11, 2012. Because of that, you are now turning your eyes to promoting safety for others. (Read a condensed version of Elicia's accident story on her website at waltzingpaws.com.) What can you tell me about that?

Raising awareness for driving while alert, the importance of stopping for adequate rest (even if it means being late or staying an extra night in a hotel), having a network of people to travel with and who know your travel plans in case of an emergency, are among topics in my articles and peaking engagements to groups and clubs.

Pet travel safety is something I'm working on at the moment. Systems that would protect the dogs, not just restrain them from interfering with the driver. There are several states who have recently passed laws required pet restraints within a vehicle. However, in speaking with many of the manufacturers of these systems and reading the laws, the focus is on protecting the driver. I'm working with several manufacturers to create car harness designs that would focus on protecting the dog from harm if they survive a crash. I'm investigating crating and travel systems for different vehicle types that would provide the safest environment for dogs. And, finally, I would like to see standards by which these pet systems will be measured and tested for reliability. It does our dogs no good to be using a product that after the crash did them more harm than if they had been unrestrained.

Check back on Monday to read part two of this interview, where Elicia talks in detail about her experiences in agility. 

Deborah Davidson Harpur has been competing in agility since 1998. She currently handles 16 dogs of various breeds including Rat Terriers, All Americans, French Bull Dogs, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a Shetland Sheepdog, a Border Collie and more. She enjoys competing in USDAA agility and is the proud mom of USDAA roving reporter Rickie Roo. Her dogs are all proud canine ambassadors for the Active Care line of dog food by Breeder's Choice and for ilovedogs.com, tj.la, and ilovedogsdiamonds.com. You can learn more about Deborah and her dogs at pm2dogagility.com.


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