An Opportunity of a Life Time
Peter Wade

It was September 1992, at Fred Thurston’s Farm in New Gloucester, Maine when I attended my first NAVHDA Invitational. At that time, I was the Director of Testing for the Yankee Chapter and was a worker for the event. I met the judging team, which consisted of Bodo Winterhelt, Bill Jensen, John Kegel, Bob West, Pat Lamantia, Larry Reese, and Joe Dolejsi, as the alternate. I was very impressed with the entire weekend, meeting the people that I had only read about, and seeing the best that NAVHDA had to offer.

Over the next 13 years, I was still working on that elusive UT prize I, which seemed to be just out of my grasp. In the fall of 2005, on the same grounds that I attended my first training clinic and the 1992 Invitational, it finally happened; UT prize I / 204 with my dog Gretta. So, plans to participate in the 2006 Invitational in Ohio were in the works.

We trained with numerous people and at different locations to prepare for the test. A special thanks to all of the people that took the time to talk and to train with me over that summer. Once that Gretta and I were ready, and we had traveled to Ohio, we had a great time meeting new people, catching up with old friends, and sharing stories and training tips. Each morning, as the handlers and their dogs would line up and wait to be introduced, you could see the excitement and nervousness in their faces. As the national anthems were sung by a young college student, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and the excitement built. Each of the judges came by to shake our hands and to wish each handler good luck. This was the Daytona 500 of the dog tests. I was proud to be a part of this organization and to have the chance to run my dog in this group of the best of the best. I was fortunate enough to qualify my hunting companion as a VC, which was the icing on the cake.

In the early spring of this year, I was getting ready for work one morning and checked my email. There was a message from the NAVHDA office, which was asking me to be a Judge at the 2007 Invitational! At first, I thought I was misunderstanding the message. Did I mention it was 4 am. So, I needed to tell my wife the news. I went upstairs and woke her. Since she was half awake, she thought I was joking. She then asked, “Are you serious? Are you going to go?” I then said, “Hell yeah!” So, then I started making plans to attend the 2007 Invitational as a judge. What an honor!

Attending this year’s Invitational was just as exciting as last year. Attending as a judge was just as nerve racking as the one before. It was great to see old friends and meet new ones. It’s always exciting to talk about family, dogs, training and hunting with so many people that have the NAVHDA bug.

The first day, Wednesday, was the set-up day. The judges arrange the water sites and make sure the fields are ready to go for the next day. The next day, Thursday, is the first day of testing. Every day starts with the opening ceremonies; all of the pomp and circumstance that any sports event of the highest caliber would demonstrate. You are realizing that you are part of something very big, very spectacular. The American and Canadian flag were flying high. Both national anthems were played. The hair on the back of your neck is standing tall. You know that each and every one of these dogs and handlers has worked so hard to be here on this day. The judging team greets every handler, with a hand shake. I told each one of them “Good Luck and Have Fun,” knowing how nervous they were. As each day started the same way, this same excitement was felt each day.

As a first time judge, the system is designed that you have the opportunity to be an alternate with the various parts of the test for the first two days. This was a great way to see all aspects of the test and how things were going to happen. Thursday, I spent the morning at the water site for the wing-taped duck and walking at heel and the afternoon was at the water site for the honoring and blind retrieve. On Friday, I was in the field all day. On Saturday, I was in the field as an official member of the judging team. On Sunday, I was at the water site for the honoring and blind retrieve. Each day, it was a great experience to see some amazing dogs work, as well as, some dogs and handlers experience the “agony of defeat,” knowing it was a very disappointing day for them. You know that some of these handlers are judges and have been here before, whereas other handlers are experiencing this amazing event for the very first time. It is definitely a “WOW” for all of them.

My message to you is that if you have never attended an Invitational before, then try to do so. Whether you go as a worker, a handler or a judge, you will truly enjoy this opportunity. To quote Jim Moe, “You will see the best of the best that NAVHDA has to offer”. It is amazing to see all of the work that goes into this International event. It makes planning a local UT test look like a walk in the park. This is an amazing undertaking for a chapter to host. There is so much pre-planning and work by so many people to make this successful for everyone. I want to thank all of these people that made this a great event. Thanks for making my judging experience a great one.

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