Tag Archives: NEW YORK

Laura Lyn: Minnesota Vikings Cheerleader Shows at Westminster Kennel Club — the “Super Bowl of Dog Shows.”

 

By: MARY ULLMER
Photography: TERRY JOHNSTON

NEW YORK – Those who question the competitive nature, athleticism or brains of cheerleaders likely have never met Laura Lyn.

As a member of the Minnesota Vikings cheerleading squad, she’s on the sidelines trying to rile up fans, but she also performs complex dance routines, all the while trying to keep one eye on the action, lest she and her teammates find themselves in the path of an oncoming professional football player.

A lifetime fan of the Vikings, Laura knows football, and also knows what it takes to compete. The 28-year-old Minnesota native grew up with dance and gymnastics and played tennis in high school and college. She also rode horses – “I could ride a horse before I could walk” – and later showed them as well.

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Her latest competitive venture? Showing dogs. So, it’s a natural that a woman who works for an NFL team ended up competing at the “Super Bowl of dog shows,” the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.

Her stall in the WKC benching area was decked out in Vikings purple and gold – the same colors of the famed Westminster Kennel Club. The grooming table used to spruce up Laura’s 4-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, Kendra, was covered with a Minnesota Vikings towel.

Kendra didn’t win the dog equivalent of the Super Bowl – and the Vikings have appeared in four Super Bowls but never won – but she was awarded “select bitch” during the breed competition. And while she didn’t win “best of breed” to qualify for the Working Group finals at Madison Square Garden, Laura said she was happy with Kendra’s performance during their brief time in the ring.

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“I think it went well … everyone said she looked good,” Laura said. “I’m always my own worst critic, so little tiny things, like, ‘Oh, her foot moved here,’ bug me. But it was very surreal standing outside the ring waiting to go in. I was like, ‘I am at Westminster.’

“I’m happy she got pulled (from the lineup) and got her award. It would have been fun to get best of breed but she got a piece of it, and I’m happy. She showed well, she looked good, and I had fun with her.”

It was her first time at Westminster, and Laura vows she’ll be back. Clearly, the competitor in her doesn’t give up easily. She wasn’t selected for the Vikings cheerleading team her first time around, either, but Laura persisted. She was placed in a training program in 2006 and finally made the team in 2009.

“I’ve been on the team for four years, but I’ve been with the (Vikings) organization for seven,” Laura said. “I was in the training program, because I didn’t make the team my first time trying out. In the training program they spend a year with you and they have alumni that coach you. They take what you need to work on and help you perfect it so you can try out again the next year. So I was on the training program for a couple of years.”

The team holds open auditions for cheerleaders every April, with a couple hundred women trying out. The field is narrowed to 50 or 60 by the end of the day, and those women go through a few weeks of training camp. Finally, the team of 35 is selected by a panel of judges in a competition held at the Mall of America.

Laura is the oldest on the team – the minimum age is 18 and there is no maximum age.

“When I first started there were girls well into their 30s,” she said. “As the years go on, they kept leaving, and I’m still here. But even as a veteran, you have to try out again each year, so there is no guaranteed spot on the team. That makes you work that much more for it.”

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Laura grew up loving sports – she was on her high school’s state championship tennis team in Edina, Minn. She also grew up loving the Vikings. Her parents, Leo and Sharon Fourre, have been Vikings season ticket holders for as long as she can remember.

“I remember growing up and watching the girls on the sidelines and thinking, ‘How fun would that be?’ and one thing led to another eventually,” Laura said. “I don’t just work for the team, I’ve been a fan of the Vikings my whole life.”

She’s heard plenty of stories of the days of outdoor football at frigid Metropolitan Stadium, and even had a taste of those cold-weather adventures as part of the cheerleading team in 2010. That was the year the roof of the Hubert H. Humprey Metrodome, where the Vikings play their home games, collapsed from the weight of snow after a particularly brutal storm.

The Vikings were forced to play one of their remaining “home” games at Detroit’s Ford Field, and the other at the University of Minnesota – outdoors.

“We had to get all of our warm-weather clothes at the last minute,” she said. “It was cold and snowy and we didn’t have warm-weather team gear. We wore big puffy white jackets and pants. It was a really fun game, but I don’t know about outdoor football in 30-below weather.”

The winters in Minnesota no doubt played a role in her decision to attend the University of San Diego after graduating from high school. But she missed the Midwest (“I take warm-weather vacations now”) and tennis, and transferred to St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn., where she played tennis for a year.

“I got burned out on tennis but then not playing in college (in San Diego), of course, I wanted to play,” Laura said. “I started playing tennis because I thought it was a lifelong sport, but I went at it so heavy for such a long time that I needed a break.”

She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at College of St. Benedict, in biochemistry, pre-med and mathematics. Her full-time job now is in medical sales.

All Vikings cheerleaders must be either a full-time student, full-time mother or have a full-time job. Needless to say, between her full-time job, part-time job with the Vikings and her “hobby” of showing dogs, Laura is constantly on the go. She arrived for the dog show in New York fresh off a military tour with the Vikings cheerleaders at a Naval base in Japan.

“Tryouts are in April, and then we’re in full swing,” Laura said. “We shoot a calendar, do photo shoots, have team shots for marketing and we practice three nights a week. We spend all summer memorizing and learning the routines.

“As a team, we do about 400 to 500 appearances a year. I did about 120 myself last year. So, we definitely keep busy in the community, even more than at games. We’re always doing a lot of charity work in communities. It’s such a big part of why I love doing it … we can have an impact on the people we get to meet, and it means a lot.”

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Laura Lyn: Minnesota Vikings Cheerleader Shows at Westminster Kennel Club — the “Super Bowl of Dog Shows.”

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Showing her Bernese Mountain Dogs is more a hobby than a line of work for Laura.

“This is so non-mainstream,” she said. “This is a more unique hobby, sports and competition wrapped in one. If I could make this my career, I’d be happy, but I probably wouldn’t like it as much because then it’s more of a job.”

For now, she plans to keep it her hobby. But that’s not to say she isn’t out to win. Her first taste of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show won’t be her last, she promised.

“I’ve watched the show for years, and going over to the Garden (Monday night) was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ It’s so big,” she said. “But I’m super competitive. After being at the Garden (to watch the Group competition), I said, ‘I’m not done here until I’m at the Garden (as best of breed winner).’

“I don’t know when, but I will be back there at some point in time.”

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Mary Ullmer is a pets blogger and editor of Dogs Unleashed, a lifestyle magazine for dog lovers distributed in West Michigan. Contact her at mail@pressunleashed.com or follow her on Twitter, @pressunleashed.

Westminster Kennel Club Terrier Group Judge Jay Richardson: Living the (Dog) Dream.

 

By: MARY ULLMER
Photography: TERRY JOHNSTON

NEW YORK – When Jay Richardson entered the ring at Madison Square Garden, he was greeted with some familiar – and some not so familiar – faces. But it was the half-black, half-white face that captivated him.

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Richardson, of St. Charles, Ill., was chosen as the Terrier Group judge for this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. It was Richardson’s responsibility to select the best of the best from a gathering of 30 terriers who were selected tops among their breed earlier in the day.

His choice would move on the Best In Show judging, earning a shot at becoming “America’s Top Dog.”

“I’ve grown up in this business,” Richardson, 59, said. “For anyone who shows dogs competitively, winning something at the Garden is the ultimate. Everybody would love to judge in New York. I am extremely fortunate to be chosen to do the terrier group in just my second assignment (with the WKC).”

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Richardson’s only previous judging assignment with the WKC, in 2008, was a preliminary for junior showmanship, where the handler, and not the breed, is the focus.

“You don’t judge the quality of the dogs, but you judge the handler and how they present,” Richardson said.

Growing up, Richardson was surrounded by poodles. His parents raised and showed poodles, primarily the standard poodle. After school, he worked in a kennel that featured collies. He has shown different breeds, but mainly soft-coated Wheaten terriers. Presently, two older miniature wirehaired Dachshunds and a young Brussels Griffon (his daughter’s) call the Richardson household home.

But judging terriers is Richardson’s passion. Terrier judges are a rather small group, Richardson said, and he thinks that might have played into his selection to be a group judge. He found out about his assignment in April 2011, when a letter from the WKC arrived in the mail.

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“It basically said, ‘We invite you to judge and your assignment is as follows,’ ” Richardson said. “I thought, ‘Great, I get to go back (to WKC) … I wonder what breed I’ll be judging.’ When I saw it was the Terrier Group, I thought, ‘Wow.’ It’s something I never imagined or planned on. This is as good as it gets, doing a group, and especially the Terrier Group at the Garden. It’s the ultimate.”

He said it’s the challenge of judging terriers that attracts him to the group.

“Someone once said it’s hard to hide things on a smooth-coated dog, and that’s true,” Richardson said. “Terriers provide a great challenge to a handler. I think what sets them apart from other dogs is the conditioning that it entails and the grooming … the ability to groom the dog and take that hard coat and make it into what it’s supposed to be.

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“When you get into the bigger shows, the level of dogs you are judging is superb. As a judge you really have to think. It gives you the opportunity to be a little pickier than you normally are. At the Garden, all the group dogs will be in perfect condition. You have the best of the best … the best dogs in the best condition, and you hope they show the best they can. It presents a challenge.”

For those who have watched the WKC Dog Show and wondered how one dog could possibly win out over another, Richardson offers insight into his approach. Given that he judges terriers, attitude sometimes plays a role.

“It’s very subjective and I always feel there’s no right or wrong way,” he said. “The way I approach it is I try to determine how good of a specimen is that individual dog of his breed. Is that Airedale terrier a better Airedale than the Kerry blue is a Kerry blue? The level you’re talking about at Westminster, something that factors in is who wants to win that day? Great show dogs tend to rise to the occasion.

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“My personal feeling is that in most situations when you have a very difficult decision, one dog seems to help you out a little more than others. It sort of says, ‘Hey people, this is my space. Kiss my ass.’ They have that fire in their eyes, they watch you the whole way and if you got into a staring match with them, you would blink first.”

It was the stare that captured Richardson when he selected Adam as winner of the Terrier Group at Westminster. The smooth fox terrier’s head is split right down the middle between black and white. Adam, a 5-year-old owned by JW Smith of North Collins, N.Y., had also won the Terrier Group in 2011 and was second in the Group in 2012.

It wasn’t the first time Richardson had judged Adam. He had seen him four years ago as a young dog in California and gave him second to a Scottish terrier, Sadie, who went on to win Best in Show at Westminster in 2010. He awarded Adam best in breed and best in group in another show in Louisville, and also had previously judged him Best in Show.

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This year at Madison Square Garden, Adam stood out again, Richardson said. He selected Adam over the wire fox terrier, Sky, who had won the Eukanuba and National Dog Show championships coming into Westminster and was handled by Gabriel Rangel, who took Sadie to Best in Show.

“In my opinion, Adam is as good a fox terrier as any that has come down the road,” he said. “I believe he was a better smooth than the wire was a wire. I was happy with the group and happy they all showed as well as they did. I just thought the night belonged to the smooth over the wire.

“Logic would say the wire would be the one to beat. I don’t think Gabriel lost a show with her all year. She had won consistently week in and week out.”

Sky finished second in the group, followed by the border terrier, Mia, and the Russell terrier, Bosse.

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Richardson said he was surprised as anyone to see Adam competing. Group judges are sequestered and are not aware of which dogs they’ll be judging until they are in the ring.

“It’s my understanding that they didn’t decide until Friday or Saturday that they were going to show him,” Richardson said. “I didn’t even know he was going to be there until he walked into the ring.”

Richardson himself pulled off somewhat of a surprise, judging the 5-year-old Russell terrier from Sawyer, Mich., fourth in the group. It was the first year the Russell terrier was entered in the WKC Dog Show, and it’s a rarity for a new breed to score in its first year.

“I had never judged that dog before,” Richardson said. “I had seen it from a distance. I actually read the Russell terrier standard several times on Tuesday just to be sure. It was a great show dog … his head, his ears and the standard calls for that collapsible chest. When I put my hands on him and pressed, the chest collapsed just like it’s supposed to.

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“I was very happy with the four dogs I placed.”

When it came to placement, Richardson said everything about Adam on that night made it clear he was the top terrier.

“He is just a superb example of what I think the smooth fox terrier is supposed to look like,” Richardson said. “From the nape, the neckline, the beautiful face, such wonderful eyes and ears… and that piercing terrier expression.

“His eyes just burn through you when you come up on him. He is just a beautiful dog.”

Mary Ullmer is a pets blogger and editor of Dogs Unleashed, a lifestyle magazine for dog lovers distributed in West Michigan. Contact her at mail@pressunleashed.com or follow her on Twitter, @pressunleashed.