Deb Schulman is the winng-est coach in UW-Platteville history, set to earn her 600th win on the volleyball court this weekend. Yet, during a season she seeks to take her team to a seventh NCAA tournament, she will leave her team for a week in October to compete in a different sport for a world championship.
The 26-year coaching veteran has never missed a practice, let alone a game during her career, but she will miss a conference tournament as she and her miniature poodle, Spencer, represent the United States at the International Canines Agility World Championships in South Africa.
"Many people go through life without one passion. I'm lucky enough to have two," said Schulman. "To me, it's all sport. It's just a different form. When I'm coaching people, I'm developing a relationship with them. When I'm working with my dog, it's a team sport."
Dog agility competitors are judged by speed through an obstacle course. The fastest time with the fewest number of faults (i.e. knocking down a bar on a jump) is declared the winner. Schulman said she was torn about whether to leave her volleyball team during the season, but the support of her administration and players made the decision easier.
"I know it wasn't an easy decision for her to leave the team during the season, but she's put so much time and hard work into dog training," said assistant coach Samantha Rogers. "It's not just a hobby, it's a passion."
Schulman, a UW-Platteville Hall of Fame member, is also a member of the UW-Milwaukee Hall of Fame after graduating from school there in 1984 with letters in volleyball, basketball, cross country and track. She said getting a chance to represent this country is an honor even if it isn't the traditional way she hoped for when she was a child.
"I remember sitting home dreaming about the Olympics and thinking, 'Wouldn't that be cool, being able to represent the United States. Putting the USA uniform on,'" she said. "Here, I'm getting to do that. It's in a different vein, but it's still a competition and it gets me excited."
She became interested in agility training with her older dog, Madison, when she took him a few years back for a refresher behavior course. She later purchased Spencer and has been working with him four-to-six days per week in the recent past. His strengths remind her of the best volleyball players she's ever coached.
"I just love how he loves to work," she said. "I always say I never want anyone to outwork me and yet, he may outwork me because he's the one who never wants to quit and I have to tell him to quit."
Schulman built a training facility outside her home in Platteville and now teaches behavior classes for dogs and their handlers.
Meanwhile, her volleyball team is looking forward to getting Schulman to 600 wins this season and beyond. Its members are also excited about the world championship their coach could bring home in October.
"Being able to go to world's and represent the United States, that is huge," said junior Andrea Larsen. "If it means leaving us for a week, it's her dream, she needs to go to that and we fully support her doing that. We're so proud of her."
To watch video of Schulman and Spencer, click here.