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IFCS Team Profile: Steffi Diem and Inara

A profile of IFCS Team USA member Steffi Diem and her dog Inara.

Where do you live?

I live in Oak Ridge, TN

How did you first get involved with agility?

I saw an agility competition on TV and it looked like so much fun! Inara was a high-energy puppy and I thought she would really enjoy the sport. When she started agility training she was very shy and scared of the equipment and practically walked through the course. As time went on she gained confidence, overcame her fears and really started picking up speed! Now she screams for joy whenever she sees the equipment. I was so incredibly excited when a couple years ago, Inara and I were invited to compete on the very same TV show that introduced me to agility. Inara thought the event was the best thing ever because she was the center of attention.

What made you decide to compete?

I got Inara and her sister Starbuck shortly after I graduated from graduate school. Up until that point in my life my time had been completely consumed with school. I wasn't sure what I should do with my free time so I thought agility competitions might be a fun way to fill the time. The first competition we went to was a USDAA show. People were so friendly, nice and so very helpful! Ever since that first show we've been hooked!

Do you participate in any other dog sports or training with your dogs?

My dogs all do a lot of cross training. Most of our time is spent on things besides agility. We go hiking every day and they do lots of conditioning and tricks to keep in shape. Inara's sister, Starbuck, has also done a little flyball.

Tell us more about the dog you will be competing with as an IFCS Team Member?

Inara is an Alaskan Klee Kai. She looks like a tiny husky and weighs 13 lbs. She has a lot of the husky personality traits (independent, high-energy) as well as the crazy cute husky noises. Everyone can tell when we are ready to run because as soon as I take off her harness at the startline she always has something to say. We've had an incredible journey to get to this point. At our very first trial, we didn't make Starters' course time. I've been lucky to work with some amazing people, like Loretta Mueller, who believed in me and Inara even when I doubted our skills. Loretta gave me some great drills to improve Inara's speed and teach Inara to love a variety of the skills needed to compete internationally. It's been a pretty amazing journey. I love that now Inara is confident enough to yell at me on course when she doesn't like a handling choice.

Does your dog have any quirks or unique habits that you loved to share?

Inara is very opinionated and has a specific schedule she likes us to stick to. If we're late for daily hikes, she makes sure to remind us by screaming very loudly and punching me - it always makes me laugh. I've gotten many comments from judges throughout the years how much they enjoy watching us because she has such a big personality for a little dog. Inara isn't very fond of the table so she will continuously scream for the five-second down.

Do you have other dogs/pets aside from your IFCS dog? Tell us more about them:

I have three other dogs and they all do agility. Starbuck is nine-years-old and is Inara's older sister (same parents) and my first dog, Alpha Prime is also an Alaskan Klee Kai and is seven-years-old. And then to really confuse people I have a sable Sheltie named Battlestar who is just starting out in USDAA agility.

Describe for us what you do in your "other" non-agility life, work life? 

I'm an experimental plasma physicist. I work on fusion energy research - a clean, safe, alternative energy source that has the potential to provide affordable energy for the world via the same process that fuels the stars. My specialty is to model how to most efficiently heat plasmas with high-powered microwave sources.

How does it feel to be on the IFCS Team this year?

It feels incredibly amazing! We've worked so hard to get to this point in our agility career that it is like a dream come true. We are having a blast training with Tracy, Monique and the other team members. It was especially amazing to be able to attend the team practice in January. Everyone is so supportive and so very talented.

What are you looking forward to the most at the World Agility Championship event in Spain this April?

I think the craziest thing will be that instead of eagerly waiting for the courses to be posted online so I can set them up at home to try out I will actually be there running them!! I always watched videos from the WAC, dreaming about how cool it would be to run alongside all of the talented handlers from around the world and now I actually get to go and compete!

Do you do anything special to prepare yourself for a big competition?

Currently, we are doing a lot of drills to work on specific skills. We are both working out a lot and Inara is enjoying her weekly massages to keep in top shape. We've also been attending a lot of seminars to fine-tune handling.

People who enjoy agility with their dogs are often intimidated by the idea of competition - what advice would you give them to encourage them to take the plunge?

The great thing about competitions is that at the end of the day we still get to go home with the most amazing dogs. These dogs are just really happy to be out there running with their favorite person and really do not care about results. I think my favorite part of every run is seeing how happy my dog is and how confident agility has made her. My dogs also love the trips to trials because it's like a special vacation that is all about them. I think if people look at it from that perspective it doesn't seem so serious as the word "competition" tends to be. I also like to look at competitions as a chance to test out my training and look for skills that we may be lacking as a team.

Enjoy a video of Steffi and Inara:


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