Groomer to Groomer

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Up and Coming Groomers

Setting Contest Rings on Fire

By Kathy Hosler


“Grooming is not just a job or my career,” states a glowing Sarah Moon, one of the newest members of GroomTeam USA. “It’s what I live and breathe. It’s my passion. And doing well when I compete doesn’t make me feel content or satisfied — it makes me want to learn and do more and to get better.”

Sarah is not alone in her passion for grooming or competing. This past September, Sarah and fellow groomers Kristen Clyburn, Mackensie Murphy, and Nick Waters were nominated for the Barkleigh Honors Award for Up and Coming Competitive Groomer of the Year. These young grooming sensations have traveled different paths to enter the world of grooming and the competition ring, but they all share the same passion for what they do.

“I’ve been grooming for about six years,” says an upbeat Kristen Clyburn. “I began as a bather at PetSmart when I was in college, then I got into their grooming training program. During that time, I got my first copy of Groomer to Groomer magazine. Karen Tucker was on the cover with a gorgeous black Miniature Poodle in a German trim. I knew right then that I wanted to do that, too.

“My first competition was in the Oster Career Start at the Carolina Groom Fest,” Kristen recalls. “I was incredibly nervous but excited as well. I didn’t place in that class, but I got the bug, and in 2011 I began to compete in earnest. I really love the camaraderie among the competitors, having fun, and getting feedback. For me, the worst part is the nerves... watching the judges go over your dog and then waiting for their decision.”

“I grew up watching my mom, Jodi Murphy, groom, compete, and be on GroomTeam USA,” says Mackensie Murphy. “I’ve been bathing dogs for my mom since I was about eight years old. While working the trade shows at my mom’s booth selling DVDs and clothes, I would watch the grooming competitions and say, ‘I could do this. I could do this.’ But I felt like I had the biggest shoes to fill. I was worried about competing and not doing well, but I just jumped in, and now I can’t get enough of it.”

As much as she loves competing, Mackensie shares the unnerving event that almost prevented her from entering her first contest. “My first competition was at Atlanta two years ago,” recalls Mackensie. “I made arrangements to borrow a Poodle from Lindsey Dicken and was going to put it in a German trim. I practiced that trim on so many dogs for weeks before the competition.

“The night before the competition, Diane Betelak came to our hotel room and said, ‘Mackensie’s Poodle just got its ear bitten off by a Kerry Blue Terrier in the elevator!’ It was awful!” says Mackensie. “We took the Poodle for emergency treatment, but of course I wasn’t able to compete with it. Luckily, I was able find another Poodle to compete with, and I ended up winning Best In Show First Time Competitor.”

Another young groomer that is making his mark in the competition circle is Nick Waters. Nick comes from a family of dog lovers who have been very involved in training and showing dogs. Nick and his sister, Ashley, decided to attend the Academy of Dog Grooming Arts in Arlington Heights, Illinois, to learn pet grooming. While they were there, an instructor at the school encouraged them to try competing.

“My first competition was at the All American Show in Chicago, and it was a lot of fun,” says an enthusiastic Nick. “I did a Bichon and wound up getting Best First-Timer. When I compete, I’m always learning something new. I like seeing all the groomers and the inspiring trims they put on the dogs.”

Nick and his sister both compete now. He says that they have a back-and-forth battle between them to see who can do the best in the competitions. They both have plenty of family support when they are in the ring. Their mom, dad, and five siblings all sport green t-shirts that proudly say Team Waters on them.

Although these young superstars have only been competing a short while, they are making their presence felt throughout the industry. In fact, all four of them have qualified to become members of GroomTeam USA. The passion that drives them is evident by their impressive wins and their constant desire to improve their skills.

How have Sarah, Kristen, Nick, and Mackensie risen to this level so quickly? “I have always soaked up knowledge from anywhere that I can,” says Sarah Moon. “I’m big on education. I go to every dog show and seminar possible. Books like Notes from the Grooming Table by Melissa Verplank are invaluable to me. And in the summer of 2011, I got my certification through the NDGAA.

“I’m one of those people who, when I decide to do something, jump into it with both feet and go for it all the way,” says Sarah. “I like the challenge of competing. I seldom use the same dog twice. It’s really rewarding to see what you can do on a dog that you have never groomed before.”

Kristen Clyburn says, “Making GroomTeam and being nominated for a Barkleigh Honors Award are incredible honors. I feel like a little fish in a big pond, but grooming is my passion, and when I compete, I challenge myself. I need to prove to myself that I can do it.

“I always learn something new,” says Kristen. I’ve received a lot of help and advice from so many people. I have taken many hands-on workshops, gotten tips from breeders, asked questions at trade shows, and I always get detailed critiques from judges.”

Nick Waters says, “Grooming school, dog shows, handlers, breeders, and other groomers have all helped me out in so many ways. I’m always learning something new.

“I love competing,” Nick continues. “I like the adrenaline, the sounds of the contest ring, and challenging myself to do better!”

Mackensie Murphy, this year’s winner of the Barkleigh Honors Up and Coming Competitive Groomer Award, says, “Competing is a break from everyday grooming. It’s seeing how far you can go and how well you can do. We learn so much from each other — especially the group of us that are coming up together. I want to be part of this great industry for as long as I can!”

Watch for these exciting competitors in the ring. They’re on fire — and their passion is contagious!