By GroomTeam USA
In the fall of 2012, after two years of intense competition, the GroomTeam USA 2013 Travel Team was announced. Lindsey Dicken would compete in the Scissoring class, Irina Pinkusevich would compete in Setters and Spaniels, Veronica Frosch would be competing in Poodles, and Michell Evans would round out the team with Handstripping. Olga Zabelinskaya would go as the alternate, ready to jump in and groom should the need arise.
There were many challenges and bumps along the way, but the team defied the odds and won the gold, defeating fifteen other countries. After much celebration and excitement, Lindsey Dicken and I sat down with the team one on one and relived the experiences leading up to that golden moment.
Cheryl: Today I have Lindsey Dicken with me, who is a three-time Travel Team member and medalist. Lindsey was chosen to be the team’s Scissoring class competitor, and she brought the world famous Zoey the Wonder Bichon, who is also a three-time Travel Team member!
Lindsey, you competed with the most dogs. Ms. Adventurous, you did two individual classes as well as the team competition. Why would you want to compete in the individual classes?
Lindsey: It’s kind of a warm up for me. I like to get a feel for the conditions, as even the climate can play a part in your finish. I also like to see the judging style, get an idea for what the judges are looking for, so I have a better idea when it comes to the real deal.
Cheryl: So you did two individual classes, scissoring with a Bichon on Saturday, and that’s when we found out about the soft water that we were bathing the dogs in.
Lindsey: Yes, that was just a disaster! I rented a beautiful Bichon from a Spanish groomer, and the coat was just so soft.
Cheryl: Well let’s just back up a second, because wasn’t that contest dog given to you as your seminar dog for your morning seminar?
Lindsey: Yes! I was giving a seminar that morning, and there was much confusion. The contest dog was brought to me as my demo dog, so we rushed to get it ready. We washed and started to dry him when the actual demo dog showed up, so it was a bit of a scramble to get both dogs finished up. The water was heavily softened, though, and that quickly became apparent as soon as I started scissoring the dog. No amount of product in the world was going to give the finish I wanted! Plus the lighting was a challenge, so the two together was a death sentence for me.
Cheryl: Then Sunday morning, you competed in the Poodle class with Emma, a blue Miniature Poodle, against an entry of over 50 Poodles in your division alone. Both you and Veronica brought Poodles with you from home. You chose to bathe your dog at the hotel and not take a chance with the water at the show site. How did that turn out?
Lindsey: MUCH better! She has a soft coat to begin with, so I wasn’t taking chances this time, especially after going through all the effort and hassle of getting her to Spain in the first place. (Many thanks to her owners Melissa Sangster and Donna Bilinski!) Bathing times are very limited there, and we didn’t have an option to rebathe her if it didn’t turn out the first time.
Cheryl: So they make a cut down to three finalists, which is a slightly different system than the one we use in the U.S.; finalists aren’t called in any particular order. Placements are given just before Best in Show. Can you tell us a little bit about how that works?
Lindsey: They call out the three finalists, so you know you’ve gotten a placement but not which one. They do that for all the classes. No one knows how they did until the awards ceremony at the end.
Cheryl: For you, that happened to be about 40 minutes after the end of your class, since Poodles go last. You had to wait in the ring for the awards; meanwhile, some of your teammates had to prep your team dog. How did you feel about that? Did that make you nervous that you weren’t able to prepare Zoey yourself?
Lindsey: Yes, I was extremely anxious about that. My prep ritual is very sacred to me, and no one has EVER in the history of Zoey prepared that dog besides me. It was definitely a leap of faith that paid off.
Cheryl: So back to the Poodle class. You made the finals—then what happened?
Lindsey: Well, they called third, they called second. It wasn’t me, but it still took me a minute to process that I had just won a HUGE class of gorgeous Poodles! It was shocking, because as an American groomer, sometimes we get pegged as having boring styles and trims. We are competing against these huge spray ups and dramatic outlines. I was just floored.
Cheryl: You did a trim we see often here in the U.S. known as a modified puppy trim. After winning that huge class, you had to stay for Best in Show. Was that a bit of a culture shock for you as well?
Lindsey: Yes, they structure their awards a bit differently than we do. They only have two divisions: Open, which we would consider like an entry or intermediate division, and Champion Class, which is like our Open or A division. All the winners of all classes, both divisions, compete for one Best in Show. So there were eight dogs, two from each class vying for the big win. It’s a bit of a learning curve.
Cheryl: Unfortunately for you, you didn’t win Best in Show this time, but do you feel that helped your mindset for the World Competition that afternoon?
Lindsey: Definitely. I was so happy at that point just about winning the class, I wasn’t upset at all about not winning BIS. I had a couple of judges come up afterward and acknowledge that it was between me and the winner, so that alone made my day. I’ll take it!
Cheryl: We had about 30 minutes until we had to do the team presentations. Immediately after that, we needed to get dogs to the ring for the prejudging. How did that all fall together in such a short amount of time? How do you guys get to eat or take a bathroom break or anything?
Lindsey: It was all a group effort. I ran the Poodle out to pee, somebody found leftover pizza from the night before in the van, someone else hunted down some drinks, while still others were fluffing and combing and wrapping and chalking! Just your usual organized chaos!
Cheryl: So once we entered the ring, and you guys were all set up, there wasn’t much left to do except groom the dogs! I don’t think the real nerves started until it was scissors down. What was going through your mind when your time was up but your teammates still had about 30 minutes to go?
Lindsey: Relief and anxiety all together! Relief to be done, knowing I did the best job I could, satisfaction with my trim, and then nerves for my teammates! I got to sit back and watch them scramble to use every last second to perfect their dogs. Pride as well, because looking at all of our dogs as a whole, I was so proud to be part of this team, and all of the hard work boiled down to these final moments.
Cheryl: As I’m sure everyone knows by now, things went well, and we won gold. I hear there’s a rumor that this is Zoey’s farewell tour. Can you tell us a little bit about her and why she is retiring from the competition table?
Lindsey: Zoey is actually my client Elizabeth Martin’s dog and has been with me since the start of my competitive career. I owe most of my success to that dog, and she’s been the best teammate I could ask for! I’ve won so much and accomplished so many goals with her. She came with us the first time I competed for the team in Germany, where we also won gold, again two years later in Kortrijk, Belgium, where Olga groomed her for the team, and then finally this last time around where I groomed her one last time for the team. Winning gold with her was such a wonderful feeling. She’s nine now, so I think she’s earned her golden retirement! I won’t say she’s completely retired, as winning Atlanta Pet Fair is still on her bucket list.
Cheryl: I sure hope Zoey gets to cross that off! Congratulations to you and Zoey for helping bring home the gold! I know we will be seeing you on the next Travel Team in 2015!
Lindsey: Olga, I know you went out strong last year to try to make the team again. How did you feel when you found out that you had made it?
Olga: It was a great honor. It was crazy; I didn’t think I would make it. I was so happy to be the alternate, knowing that I could go help my team in any way I could. I had to make sure that I studied the breeds that we were taking just in case something happened and I needed to groom the dog.
Lindsey: Had you made the Travel Team before?
Olga: Yes, in 2011, we went to Kortrijk, Belgium, where we brought home silver.
Lindsey: So this time, the team was slightly different. How did you feel about the team’s chances this time? Did you feel you had a strong team coming over?
Olga: Not so much! [Laughing] I told you from the beginning, we are the best team. Ever.
Lindsey: Olga, you competed in the individual Scissoring competition also. How did that work out for you?
Olga: Not so good.
Lindsey: It’s always hard when we have to get a dog supplied to us. We can’t see it or groom it before the competition, so you never know what you will get sometimes.
Olga: The dog was really not built well. The coat was soft, so soft, and the water was no good.
Lindsey: Yeah, I had the same problem as well, but you and Cheryl came up with a brilliant idea. What did you do?
Olga: We added lemon and secret element to the water! [Laughing] Also we filled big water bottles with water from the hotel to rinse the dogs with.
Lindsey: I heard it was pretty funny when you were all bathing the team dogs in the bathing area, and the other teams were trying to sneak a peek of what you were washing the dogs in!
Olga: They were trying to see what was in the water bottles we brought and taking pictures of the bottles when they thought we weren’t looking. Someone even went over and looked in the trash to see what the bottles were. It was just water bottles from the hotel, though!
Lindsey: So this time around, you weren’t able to be on the inside of the ring with us during the competition. How was it for you to be on the outside looking in?
Olga: I was very nervous. Me and Cheryl were running around from one end to the other whispering and looking at all the other dogs and then back at our dogs.
Lindsey: When we were all finished and everyone’s time was up, how did you think we did?
Olga: In the end, when there were only six teams in the first cut, I knew that we were going to be in at least top three. The Australian dogs looked really good, Russian dogs looked good, but our dogs looked really good, too.
Lindsey: So Olga, you’ve been out competing this year. Do you have plans to try to make the next travel team in 2015?
Olga: I don’t know. I am just going to see what happens. If I end this year pretty good, I probably won’t compete next year. I know you are already on the team. You need three strong teammates, so we will see.
Lindsey: Well, we hope to see you again. I just want to thank you, from the whole team, for all of your help and support. We really appreciate everything you did for us, from getting our dogs ready to screaming the loudest for us when we won! See you back home!
Cheryl: We have Michell Evans with Phil, the Australian Terrier for the Handstripping class, on our 2013 World Team. This was one of the tougher classes to compete in overseas, as [hand]stripping is really a strong suit for many European groomers. Even walking around town, we noticed their pet dogs were stripped! Michell, Phil was not your original choice. Can you tell us what happened with that situation?
Michell: I originally leased a champion Wire Fox Terrier named Frank two years in advance to prepare. I had been working his coat, feeling really good about it, when he suddenly developed a growth that needed to be removed. I was really upset but was offered another champion Wire Fox, Paddy, by a fellow competitor, so I flew him out to Portland to begin the process with him. Unfortunately he blew coat, and I needed to pull him tight, but the timeframe for growth just wasn’t working.
In a last minute leap of faith, I called in my backup-backup, Phil, who I had taken to Belgium as my individual dog. Phil’s breeder, Bob DeYoung, sent him to me ASAP all the way from Albuquerque on a moment’s notice, and I felt confident he was the dog for the job.
Cheryl: I guess third time is a charm. He is a beautiful dog, and you did an amazing job with him. How did you feel about using a breed that is rarely seen in Spain?
Michell: I wasn’t really too worried. I had groomed the same dog two years ago in Belgium and won silver in individual and also used another one for the team and helped win silver as well. I was confident the judges would appreciate a well stripped dog and thorough technical work.
Cheryl: Michell, you didn’t compete the last cycle. Is this it for you? Are you officially retired from the ring? If so, what are your plans?
Michell: I’m done! I’ve accomplished the goals I’ve set for myself, and now I look forward to sharing my knowledge with others through speaking, judging, and teaching.
Cheryl: I’m so glad that everything worked out in the end. You did an amazing job under immense pressure. It’s been a pleasure having you on my first travel team as coordinator, and I look forward to being able to judge with you in the future.
Lindsey: I’m here with Irina Pinkusevich, also known as Pina. This was our Spaniel and Setter competitor this year. Pina’s also a three-time member of the Travel Team. You decided not to compete in the individuals this year. Why is that?
Pina: I was finishing my apprenticeship with the European Judging Association.
Lindsey: How was that? I know we all felt a little better with you getting an idea of how the system worked.
Pina: It was good. You don’t really associate with the other judges at all; there’s no interaction. You put your own placements on paper and turn it in.
Lindsey: So it’s not like the U.S. where the judges collaborate?
Pina: Correct. Each individual judge makes their own decision. There’s no discussion to try to swing the decision to one dog or another.
Lindsey: For the competition, you brought Nikki, an American Cocker from Candy Cohn, with a ton of coat. On top of that, she is particolored, which can be extremely difficult.
Pina: The black to the white can be challenging. Recently I got a private message from a breeder saying people don’t realize how hard it is to pull off a particolor.
Lindsey: For those who don’t know, there isn’t much grass in the city of Barcelona. Keeping those feet white was a feat in itself! Lots of dusty bevels in the ring. I was talking earlier with Olga about the water situation we had, and you chose to use what to avoid the softness problem?
Pina: I did apple cider vinegar and water and splashed her after the bath with it. This is a straight drop coat, and it doesn’t need to be standing up like a Bichon or Poodle, but it has to have a little texture to it. So I thought the vinegar would be better for this particular dog. I feel really bad that the girls didn’t place with some of the dogs, but also glad, because we wouldn’t have known about the water situation. It may have been the difference between the team winning and not. God works in mysterious ways!
Lindsey: And the wonderful miss Lulu, your friend and former student that accompanied us on our trip, was not only a godsend for translating Spanish but managed to find anything and everything weird we needed!
Pina: Yeah, she came up with a lemon and some vinegar she begged off the hotel staff at 11:30 the night before! The staff must have thought us Americans have strange tastes!
Lindsey: So were you nervous at all before the class?
Pina: Not really. I was anxious, excited. I couldn’t sleep, because the adrenaline was keeping me up!
Lindsey: I think most of us by Sunday were running on fumes and adrenaline by the time of the competition, going on five or six hours of sleep, some less.
Pina: I barely remember the first three days before the competition! It was a blur.
Lindsey: Were you excited when we made that cut?
Pina: Oh, yeah. It was very exciting, and once we made the cut, I was kind of confident already. I was just hoping to make that top six. And then those few minutes when they were announcing the winners, when they got to fourth, I turned to Michell and said, “OK, we’re in medals,” so I’m good.
Lindsey: I’m going to ask you the same thing I’ve asked everyone else: are you coming with me next time?
Pina: Oh, I don’t know! I am coming, but I’m not sure in what capacity! [Laughing] If you guys decide you need me, I will. I’m semiretired. I don’t want to go out and take points away from competitors that are trying to make the team.
Lindsey: Well, never say never! But I can personally say it’s been an honor to have you beside me these last three times. I say we make a pretty good team. Thanks for making this trip so memorable.
Cheryl: Our Poodle class groomer Veronica Frosch brought Cindy Lou, a black standard from Jennifer Dege. You also competed in the individual class on Sunday morning with your own mini, Enzo. How did that go for you?
Veronica: Not so well. As much as I liked the set ups here, the lighting was very difficult to work with. Where I was set up, I was constantly getting glare off my shears, and it was blinding me. We always worry about not enough light, but there is a problem with too much light, too. They had this LED lighting, and it was very counterproductive at times.
Cheryl: You did your dogs back to back on Sunday. Was that stressful for you at all?
Veronica: Well, yeah, especially after not doing anything in the morning class. I was a little freaked out to think that I wasn’t going to be able to pull anything out in the team classes.
Cheryl: How did you feel about someone else getting your team dog bathed and dried for you?
Veronica: I wasn’t worried. I know she was in good hands.
Cheryl: Oh, thank you for that, because Olga and I were freaking out about it. We kept thinking, “OMG, what if it’s not good enough for them?” Olga as a current competitor and me as a former competitor understand how important it is to have well prepped dogs, but you always worry when it’s this important.
Veronica: Well, if you guys didn’t wash her, she wouldn’t have been done in time. I ran over there as soon as I was done with the class. So at least I could help finish prepping her.
Cheryl: Now you had 2.5 hours to do your dog. In the last half hour, I saw you working like crazy, just perfecting your finish. Is that something that you think is really important in this type of competition?
Veronica: Yes, but the whole thing is important. I didn’t have a spray up, so I really wanted to get the best profile and finish that I could.
Cheryl: I did notice that a lot of the European dogs have these big spray ups. Most of the dogs had very nice profiles but maybe not the best technical work, where our dogs had both profile and technique. Do you think that helped us?
Veronica: I definitely think that it played a part in us winning the Gold. We had very consistent placements across the board, so we were able to get very high scores, which enabled us to get the Gold.
Cheryl: How did you feel when we made the cut from 16 to 6?
Veronica: I knew we were going to make the cut, and that’s not being arrogant; that’s being confident in our team.
Cheryl: So Veronica, to put you on the spot here, are you thinking about trying to make the Travel Team next time?
Veronica: I don’t know. Let’s just say it remains to be determined. I want to get home and bask in this win for awhile first.
Cheryl: Well, Veronica, thank you for being a part for this and helping bring home the Gold for the USA.
Cheryl: We have with us Lulu Rodriguez, who is the Official-Unofficial Co-Captain of the USA Team. I have to publicly thank Lulu for all her help. Things would not have gone as smoothly as they did without your help. From translating to planning our group activities, to saving the day by dumpster diving, literally. Lulu, this is your second trip with the Travel Team. Is that right?
Lulu: Yes, this is my second trip. I went to Belgium in 2011, and that also was an amazing adventure.
Cheryl: Now you’re a groomer too, right?
Lulu: Yes, I’ve only been grooming for four years myself. I was a student of Pina’s originally; I went to Merryfield School of Pet Grooming. And as I said before, this is all new to me, but it has been such an amazing experience.
Cheryl: Well, I have to say you’re like an old hat at it. I would have never guessed that you’ve only been in our field for four years.
Lulu: I enjoy it. I enjoy giving to the team and helping wherever I can. I think that the team is an important part of our grooming careers. I think that building up the team is really important, too.
Cheryl: I do as well. Lulu, tell me a little bit about the adventure you had in helping Lindsey (who, by the way, is about 5’11”) find leg extensions for her table.
Lulu: Well, first I asked the Arteros if they had anything, and they said they were not sure if it was allowed, so off to find Umberto Lehmann to get permission. After he said yes, I was off with the gracious people from Artero, who said they would do whatever it took to help, but they had no table leg extenders with them. So we went out in the room to where all the material from setting up the show was, and we started pulling things out, like blocks of wood and stuff. Then I saw a dumpster with all the extra pieces from putting the stage and lighting together, so I dove in and started pulling things out until I found this metal piece from the scaffolding. I continued to rummage until I found four pieces. They were the only four pieces like that, and they were all the same length.
The gentleman from Artero kept saying that they wouldn’t work, but I knew it would. I went running to the ring, and Lindsey was already setting up, so we quickly pulled off the rubber pieces on the bottom of the table, and the legs fit on like they were made for it.
Cheryl: Lulu, I want to thank you again for all you did for us as a team. I truly believe that this amazing win would not have happened without all involved. It meant a lot to me, as well as the Travel Team, to see everyone that was there to support and help us.
Lindsey: Cheryl, this is your first year as the GroomTeam Coordinator. Was it all that you thought it would be?
Cheryl: It’s actually my third year as the GroomTeam USA Coordinator but my first time to travel to the World Championships with the team. It was more than I could have ever expected. I was overwhelmed by the number of competitors in both the individual and in the team competition.
Lindsey: What was the biggest challenge or obstacle for you getting the team to Spain?
Cheryl: Really the biggest challenge was the organizing of the fights and booking the dogs. I really wanted the team to travel together as a group. It was important that we start out as a team from the beginning. Then finding an airline that took dogs was a feat in itself. On top of all that, the dogs needed to have USDA health certificates, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but then our government shut down and those offices went on skeleton staff. Lucky for us, they were still handling exports. You would have thought that that would be enough, but no. The France Air Traffic Controllers were planning to strike on the same day we were due to leave, and most of Europe was going to strike with them. It was about 9 p.m. on the night before we were all due to meet in JFK when I got a text saying the strike was delayed. I was so relieved.
Lindsey: You had the great idea of renting a nine-passenger van to get the team around Barcelona. It was a manual, which meant only a few people could drive it: you, my dad Doug, and Willy Evans. How did driving over there compare to driving here?
Cheryl: To tell you the truth, it was a nightmare at first. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I’m from Boston, where we have the reputation as the worst drivers in the country. The Spaniards have no regard for any posted signs. Apparently they’re only a suggestion. People walk out in front of you without looking first, then there’s all those motorbikes. I have to say the longer we drove, the more comfortable we became. I would like to say a special thank you to Doug Berry and Willie Evans for helping drive; I couldn’t have done it without your help.
Lindsey: Was it hard for you, after so many years of being a competitor yourself, having to be on the outside of the ring and watch?
Cheryl: OMG, it was killing me. I was pacing back and forth—think an expectant grandparent. There was nothing I could do to help you all. I couldn’t sit or stand still. I was so anxious, not my favorite position. I couldn’t wait for you to be finished, so I could come stand with the team and wait to hear how we did.
Lindsey: You are now beginning your career as a judge here in the U.S. Do you have any plans to judge abroad after seeing the process and methods in Europe?
Cheryl: That’s funny you should ask. I did have an opportunity to speak with Umberto Lehmann, the president of the European Judges Association, about what I would need to do in order to judge in Europe. I think I’m going to pursue it.
Lindsey: What was your favorite or most memorable moment from the show? What’s your favorite from the whole trip?
Cheryl: Obviously the win was my favorite part, but the thing that will stick with me always is the way we all pulled together in order to make sure the team dogs were ready. As any good American would do, we went in the prep area and took over a space for us. Olga and I started bathing dogs, while Lulu and Pina were getting Nikki prepped. Olga was making sure we had the best stand dryers and not giving them up till the next team member was ready for it. Finding pizza in the van for lunch. Just getting to spend time with the whole team after the show was the best.
Lindsey: Well Cheryl, on behalf of the whole Travel Team, I want to thank you for your hard work getting everything taken care of. It can’t be easy coordinating travel, accommodations, and everything in between for five groomers and six dogs, as well as pulling double duty as bather, prepper, driver, and den mother! You did it with style, though, and we are all very thankful for all your help. You made this all possible.
Cheryl: Thank you. It was my pleasure. It has been one of the best experiences I have had in my grooming career, and I thank each and every one of you for your support.
Lindsey and Cheryl would like to give special thanks to the following people:
Doug and Lauren Berry, Lulu and Osmundo Rodriguez, Willie Evans, Katie Ware, Michael Lamb, Elizabeth and Alex Naumov, Thomas Frosch, Teri DiMarino, Jeff Davidson, Judy Breton, Jeanne and Mark Caples, and to anyone else we may have left out.
Thank to our Premium Sponsors, without whose support this would not be possible:
Wahl, Andis, Trendy Wendy, PetSmart, Nature’s Specialties, Espree, UltraLift, and Groomer to Groomer.