You may have seen calls for nominations for the annual Special Awards posted in the Rally-FrEe for All Group recently. If you’re one of the 50 plus new members who joined RFE this year, you may be wondering what that’s all about. So, I wanted to use this post to share how the Special Awards came to be and why they’re so, well, special. And, even if you’ve celebrated them with us before, this is a great time of year to be reminded to thank those who make our lives better, easier, or just more fun!
I’ll start by thanking all of you. As I look back on 2022, I’m reminded of all the things that I love about this organization. Seeing all of you sharing your successes, cheering for one another and helping others feel successful makes me so happy. The sense of community that you all have created is what I envisioned for the organization and what I want to see grow so that many more teams also benefit from the support, advice, suggestions, and experience you all share so freely and without judgment. I think it’s important to take the time to say thank you. Thank you all for being a part of this community, for your support of RFE and for your dedication to its success. I wish you all the best for 2023.
Now read on to learn more about the Special Awards. I hope you will use your nominations as a way of thanking those who’ve made a positive difference in your freestyle journey.
The Rally Freestyle Elements Special Awards
Recognizing those who inspire, encourage, coach and cheer us on in our Rally-FrEe and Musical Freestyle journeys
Diane and Tag
My Friend and Mentor
As we open nominations for the 2022 Special Awards, I’d like to share with you how the Awards came to be and the inspiration behind them. Four years ago, the freestyle world lost an elite competitor and staunch advocate for positive reinforcement and relationship-based training. Diane Balkavich was a skilled teacher whose expertise as a freestyle and obedience trainer earned her many perfect scores. Her dogs were always happy and responsive in the ring. She was one of the best of the best.
She was also a great friend to me and many others. After the announcement that Diane had succumbed to cancer on December 29, 2018, comments began flooding in and I realized that she never really knew how loved and respected she was or how much she meant to all of us. I found myself wishing I’d told her more often how much I appreciated her even though her humility and unassuming nature wouldn’t have let her believe what an important role she played in many of our lives.
I created the first Special Award, the Diane Balkavich “Heart of Freestyle” Memorial Award, not only as a tribute to her, but also as a way to commemorate her and keep her in our thoughts. Because I still wish I had told Diane more often when she was alive how much I appreciated her friendship and mentorship, the other Special Awards do just that.
“Poetry In Motion” Award
The “Poetry In Motion” Award was created to honor Cassandra Hartman. Cassandra consistently raises the bar for me, and all of us who work to reach her level of skill and presentation. As a freestyler she is the perfect storm of polish, poise and precision. Her training talents and what her canine companions are willing to give to her is nothing short of amazing, and her care in keeping her dogs physically conditioned for what she asks of them shows her respect and understanding of their needs. Whether in the freestyle ring or the Rally-FrEe ring, her presence, style and connection with her dogs is undeniable. Thank you, Cassandra for showing me that the most awe-inspiring performances are those in which both partners have an active role in creating the magic that we call freestyle.
“The Story Teller’s” Award
“The Story Teller’s” Award in Honor of Michele Pouliot. Michele has inspired me and all of us with her innovative approach to freestyle. Her ability to tell a story and draw you into the world she creates is mesmerizing. She sees no limit in what we can teach our dogs through patient training and clear communication. She has brought freestyle into a new era of precision and yet done so in a way that makes it attainable to all of us that are willing to learn and persist. Her gentle persuasion of many to the world of positive reinforcement training has created a powerful cascade in both sport dog training and in the guide dog industry as well. Thank you, Michele for pushing me and teaching me and continuing to educate about positive reinforcement training.
The Trail Blazer Award
The “Trail Blazer” Award is truly special to me. It was initiated by this community and is named in honor of me =), Owner and Creator of Rally Freestyle Elements Julie Flanery. It was created to recognize a person who has contributed to the growth of freestyle or Rally-FrEe by encouraging participation and mentoring others in their journeys, as well as fostering their skill, continued involvement and enjoyment of the sport(s).
Take a Bow Awards
These awards are a way to recognize those members that have done just a bit extra to help, encourage, or support their fellow RFE members and others in the sports of freestyle and Rally-FrEe.
All of the Special Awards are given once a year at the discretion of RFE or it’s appointees. Nomination forms are available in the RFE FB group, Facebook page and RFE website. This year, nominations will be accepted through Jan. 30, 2023.