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Meet the 2014 IFCS World Agility Team USA Members Part 4

In the fourth and final part in this series, you'll learn a bit about thee more of the IFCS World Agility Championships team members (Jennifer Crank, Linda Womer, and Paulena Renee Simpson) as well as coach Rachel Sanders. Good luck, team! By Brenna Fender


The 2014 IFCS World Agility Championships takes place from May 8-11 in the Netherlands. Team USA is made up of 12" team members Andy Mueller and Crackers, Daneen Fox and Masher, Ivette White and Zip, Monique Plinck and Tiki, Linda Womer and Sonic, Mike Padgett and Kona (Alternate); 16" team members Stacy Bols and Krusher, Maureen Waldron and Michael, Jenn Crank and Kaboo, Jennifer Thomas and Rodeo, and Giuliana Lund and Zuri; 22" team members Mary Ellen Barry and Maizy, Paulena-Renee Simpson and Graphite, Jeannette Hutchison and Rumble, Kate Moureaux and Smart, and Stacy Peardot-Goudy and Sobe; and 26" team members Lori Michaels and Solei, Desiree Snelleman and Pace, Terry Smorch and Presto, Ashley Anderson and Psi, Jenn Crank and Sonic, and Jamie Herren and Zip (Alternate). Giuliana and Zuri and Stacy and Sobe replaced Jen Pinder and Britain and Lisa Kucharski and Finesse (respectively), who cannot compete due to injury.


Linda and Sonic. Photo courtesy of 4 Legged Flix.
Linda Womer and her Papillon, Sonic, are members of the 12" team. Sonic will turn six during their stay in the Netherlands. Linda is a veterinarian and animal chiropractor with additional education in canine rehabilitation medicine and veterinary acupuncture. Linda and Sonic have never competed overseas but have gained international experience at the Cynosport World Games in 2011 and 2013 and at the Continental Championship of the Americas last year as well.

How did Linda and Sonic get ready for the big event? She says, "To help prepare for IFCS we did a few international seminars and attended team practice as well as continuing with a regular trial schedule. We also attended our weekly agility classes and worked on a few challenges in the yard (but I only have a few pieces of equipment). Outside of agility, we try to remain consistent with regular daily walks. I also adjust and massage my little SuperSonic regularly and keep his nails trimmed and paw pad fur trimmed short."


Linda thinks Sonic has some strong points that will serve him well at the IFCS World Agility Championships. She says, "Sonic's strengths are that he is consistent and has efficient turns. He also has good obstacle focus and independent obstacle skills." But she does have some concerns about "overseas" part of the equation: "I think that having never done international competition presents many challenges for us. I am not sure how the travel and jet lag will affect us. Also, Sonic can be a bit soft in new situations and he picks up on my emotions quickly. Having a warm-up on Wednesday will be very helpful in working out those butterflies!"

Linda is happy to have the opportunity to be on Team USA. She says, "I am looking forward to the entire experience! I am excited to be able to watch my USA teammates compete as well as see all of the competitors from so many different countries in person." 

Paulena-Renee Simpson and her three-year-old Border Collie, Graphite, live in Woodstock, Virginia, where Paulena-Renee is an agility coach. She has prior experience competing overseas in 2000. She says, "This will be Graphite's first international experience but I doubt it will look like it is. He is an amazing competitor (it has very little to do with me!) who does 95 % of the job every time he steps into any arena. He was a National Champion before he turned two years old and has continued to have an amazing career! What makes Graphite unique even among the most seasoned competitors is that he is focused and connected and incredibly intuitive; he never seems to have an off day. He is a complete natural and simply loves to compete!

Both Paulena-Renee and Graphite have been preparing to be their best at the IFCS World Agility Championships. "Both Graphite and I are very fit and sound and ready to peak at the [World Agility Championships]! I do lots of quiet, slow endurance miles on leash with my pack of eight Border Collies (about six miles every day at the hills) and then twice a week at the track for a 1/2 mile gallop. We do agility about twice a week and compete twice a month." 

Paulena-Renee and a baby Graphite. Photo courtesy of Paulena-Renee Simpson.

What are the biggest challenges that Paulena-Renee expects to face at the event? "Our (or my) biggest challenge will be to eat, sleep, stretch, and warm-up properly before each run. Timing is everything! My job is to handle the courses so that Graphite comprehends where I need him to go. I do not need to be fancy, just effective," she says.

Paulena-Renee is excited to be attending the IFCS World Agility Championships. She says, "I am looking forward once again to competing amongst the best of the best and hoping again for that incredible feeling of 'the perfect run!' What I find so rewarding about competing internationally is that everyone wants everyone to have great runs and the cheering gives one an incredible high. It's been a great honor to represent the USA at the WAC and I hope that Graphite and I will be able to bring home some medals and make everyone proud!"
 

Jennifer and Kaboo. Photo courtesy of Contact Point Photography.
Jennifer Crank has the distinct honor of being the only handler on Team USA to be running two dogs: eight-year-old Shetland Sheepdog, Kaboo (12" team), and seven-year-old Border Collie, Sonic (26" team). Jenn owns IncrediPAWS Dog Training where she teaches agility classes and seminars full time in Columbus, Ohio.

Jenn has extensive international agility experience with other dogs, first competing overseas in 2004. This is her first time competing in an IFCS event, and it is the first time that either of these dogs has competed overseas.

Jenn believes that her previous experiences will help her in the Netherlands. "I think every international experience has helped me with the next event. Even though the events can be formatted very differently, each one prepares you for what it takes physically and mentally. One of the most stressful parts for me is getting all the paperwork organized and done for the travel with the dogs. Each year I do it I get a little better at understanding what must be done. Same goes for other things, like packing. I way over-packed my first several years! Now I am getting better and better [at knowing] exactly what I need," she says.

Jenn has worked hard to prepare for the IFCS World Agility Championships. She says, "In addition to what I have done on my own, [coach] Rachel has done a great job preparing us for the event. The best way for me to prepare is to look up courses from the judges that will be at the event and set up their past courses. I have spent many training days building and running courses that I hope to be similar to what we will see at the event."

When asked about her dog's strong points in international competition, Jenn says, "I feel both Sonic and Kaboo are very good at running technical courses that have lots of challenges. Kaboo is the type of dog that works very close to me so it minimizes the risk for off-courses and increases or chances of being successful on technical sequences. Sonic, in general, adjusts nicely to what I am asking of him. If I really push him, he gives it to me; if I need him to be a bit more controlled, then he will back of a bit. It is nice to have such a versatile dog." 

Jenn believes that the biggest challenges at the event will not be related to the courses. "My biggest concern at this point in not knowing the 'lay of the land' as much as I would like. I am not sure of the facility, the surface, the equipment, etc. It is the fear of the unknown. I am hoping that when we arrive, we find that the facility is not at all a challenge! Great weather and a great surface will eliminate the worry for lots of potential challenges," she says.  

Despite her concerns, Jenn is very excited to be attending the event. She says, "I have been prepping and training for this for over a year. I am looking forward to finally stepping to the line and running the best run that we can after anticipating this for so long. I am also looking forward to sharing such a once-in-a-lifetime experience with so many other great US competitors."

The last member of Team USA to profile is Coach Rachel Sanders, who plays an important role in the team's preparation and success. Rachel is an agility instructor/dog trainer in Atascadero, California. Not only has Rachel had a lot of international success on her own, she has previous experience coaching the 2012 IFCS World Agility Championships US team as well. 

This year's team members have many strengths. Rachel says, "[IFCS World Agility Championships Team USA] is a diverse group of dogs and handlers. The qualification process for the team involves both consistency over several classes at the two qualification events (the Continental Championships of America and the Cynosport World Games) combined with speed. This year, with the increase in the team members from 12 to 20 handlers and dogs, we have an even larger range of strengths within each jump height. The majority of the team members are seasoned international competitors who will help bring confidence and support to those who are new to international competition."

What does Coach Sanders think will be the most challenging aspects of the event?  "It is always extra stressful when traveling to Europe: long flights, significant time zone change.... International course design is also an issue that puts the US at a disadvantage over other nations as these types of courses are not what we see on a regular basis competing in the US. Hopefully, this will not be the case in future years with the recent introduction of the Masters Challenge classes. However, there is still a learning curve with course design and, in the competitors and dogs, with execution. Although we may train on more technical exercises, our dogs and ourselves are still not used to these more challenging courses in weekend competitions. However, US agility handlers are resourceful group of competitors; we seek out the knowledge and push ourselves forward to improve," she says.

Rachel and Stuie. Photo courtesy of Contact Point Photography.

To conquer these challenges, Rachel says, "There's not much we can do regarding travel and time zones but accept that things are different and roll with the punches. Not get too worked up with things we can't control, relax and focus on the job in hand. It is really important for the team to pull together and support each other throughout the competition. Although an agility team is not a team in the same sense as a football team, where the team members have a direct influence on the results of the team, the team does have an indirect influence on the mindset of the other team members."

What kinds of things did the team do to prepare for the event? "Many of the team members are seasoned international competitors who know the types of challenges they will face during the competition. The team had access to several courses from the World Agility Championships' judges and for the first time ever we had a voluntary practice in April at Orchard Hills Dog Training Center in Barto, Pennsylvania, that many of the team attended. It was great for me to see a few of the team members who I do not know as well practice in a non-stressful environment," Rachel says.

Rachel has various tasks to perform during the event to keep things running smoothly for Team USA. She says, "My job is to help every team member perform at their best by providing them with what they need for focus and confidence throughout the event. During walk throughs, I watch every team member at least once and I'm available to discuss any concerns or handling choices they may have. I'm also at the start as they step to the line and at the end when they finish. This year, Loretta Mueller will be helping with the team as well. It's really important to have another set of eyes watching the walk throughs, verifying that the scores get recorded correctly and making sure that things are running smoothly behind the scenes so I can focus on each team member during their runs." 

Rachel would like to thank Team USA's sponsors for their role in helping the team. She says, "Many thanks to our sponsors Beverly Melcher from Orchard Hills Dog Training Center for the use of her facility for our practice, Myra Hickson from K-9 Pizazz for donating the awesome embroidered leashes for each of the team members' dogs, and to BrilliantK9 for the harnesses. On behalf of the team members, thank you for our dogs' team uniforms."

Stay tuned to USDAA.com for reports of Team USA's experiences at the 2014 IFCS World Agility Championships! Watch on demand video from the event at cynosport.tv and share your team support on USDAA's facebook. Go Team USA!

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