By Ari Case
With roughly 2,500 students, GS is not a large district. Within the numbers, though, many students are notably high-achieving—not just in academics. One student, sophomore Natalia Backos, is among them.
This year, Backos was invited to the 2023 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The Westminster Dog Show is one of the most coveted shows in the world, and the most well-known in America. Only about 80 junior competitors are invited each year, with a lengthy list of requirements.
Backos has met them all, and more.
Her first show was when she was around 2 years old.
“[I’m] third generation,” she said. “I was practically born at a dog show.”
She grew up tagging along to her mother’s shows and began to participate herself.
“When I was six, I started showing a standard schnauzer,” Backos said. “Her name was Promise and we showed together for [about] a year and a half. And we did a lot of winning. And she’s what [really] provoked my love for the sport.”
Over the years, she has shown many other dogs that grew with her. Her current show dog is a six-and-a-half-year-old Parson Russell terrier named Boozer.
“He is basically my child,” she said. “He sleeps in bed with me every night and he stays in the hotel with us. He comes to every single dog show with us—he’s always there.”
Backos has shown Boozer for several events, and he has won both his breed and group. Together, they are the #1 junior in the breed and #4 terrier junior nation-wide.
This doesn’t mean that Boozer is simply a good-looking dog, or that Backos knows how to have him spin the right way.
“It’s less than being judged against each other, like what dogs are prettiest,” she said. “It’s not like a beauty pageant. It’s based off of a written standard.”
She went on to explain that the standards are set, but each judge has a subjective opinion of each dog. Some days, certain judges will rank a dog far lower than a different judge—based on the same exact written standard.
“No matter how good you think you are, there’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t think of you that way, no matter [what] you do,” she said.
This reliance on subjective opinion can be difficult to deal with for competitors, including Backos.
“I really [take] people’s opinions, [to] heart,” she said. “When somebody says they don’t like me or they don’t like a certain thing that I do, it can make things very difficult for me because I’d like to please people [no] matter what. And you know, when somebody says that I just wasn’t good enough that day that can really be difficult.”
Backos said that she experiences fluctuation in confidence levels for shows, even before she gets to the airport.
“I’ll always have some form of anxiety about it,” she said. “Even though I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s still something that I’m always [on] the tips of my toes about. [You] never know how good you really are.”
She explained that this can be difficult for her to handle, because competitors need to be confident to show well.
Despite these difficulties, Backos and Boozer are still one of the best junior teams in the country.
This success comes with its fair share of problems, though, especially regarding teenage development.
“It can get really stressful because sometimes [I] just want to be a regular kid and not have to do something every single day, every single weekend,” Backos said.
She expressed that it is difficult to make plans and keep up with her friends when she is frequently hundreds of miles away on the weekends.
Contrarily, she shared that showing has taught her how to “talk to adults that can impact [her] life.”
Perhaps more important than difficulty making plans with friends, Backos has also had trouble with extracurriculars and schoolwork.
“It makes doing other activities very difficult,” she said. “It’s very much [like] a full-time job. So, musical season gets very difficult [and] sports get very difficult. [It] makes me really have [to] pick and choose what I’m doing.”
She explained that while showing is a lot of work, she benefits from it. She is able to make connections that will help her in the future in addition to scholarships as prizes that add up quickly. The prize for the Westminster show, a large one, is a $10,000 scholarship for the winning junior, who will then tour with others who placed first in their respective categories.
These scholarships are immensely beneficial, especially for students like her, who have big plans for education.
Backos is a straight A student enrolled in several Honors and Advanced Placement courses. She genuinely enjoys learning and puts extra effort into work when she is absent for shows.
“On the way to the dog shows, I’ll do my homework at the hotels,” she said. “[Anytime] I’m just sitting around, I’ll be doing some work. So, it’s always a balance.”
In the past, her teachers have worked with her before and after shows to ensure she understands and completes the necessary material.
One of these teachers is Ms. Kristen Solomon, English and Mock Trial teacher.
Ms. Solomon said that Backos was given extensions when she was absent, and that she “always turned in her work” and that it “didn’t seem to affect her grade” in the class—Pre-AP English I.
Trigonometry teacher Ms. Christina Burkhart expressed much of the same sentiment regarding Backos’ work ethic.
“She’ll get all the work done before she goes, and if she has questions, she’ll come and ask,” Ms. Burkhart said. “[Sometimes] she’ll just make it up when she gets back. She’s very responsible.”
Burkhart explained that she works with Backos in advisory and after school when she needs help with a topic she missed in class.
Due to understanding teachers and a determination to learn, Backos has succeeded in balancing school, showing and her extracurriculars fairly well.
She urged other students to participate in extracurricular activities if they can and to “get involved with your school and community.”
A concern for many is that it will be difficult to balance activities with schoolwork and other obligations, but high school is the time to get involved and find things that make students happy.
“I would encourage [students] to participate in extracurriculars and not be too nervous about balancing schoolwork,” Solomon said. “I’d say utilize a calendar and plan to know what you’re missing.”
This is one of the strategies Backos uses that helps her keep everything in check.
It is because of her will and dedication that Backos has gained her way into the 2023 Westminster Kennel Club dog show, and many around her are proud of her efforts. She exhibits the aspects of a true golden lion.
As Backos prepares for Westminster and heads to several other shows in the meantime, Solomon wished her luck.
“I think it’s really exciting that she’s involved in something so unique and I’m proud of her,” Solomon said.
Other teachers shared the same sentiment of pride.
“It does not surprise me that she got into this because she’s very determined and willing to work hard for what she wants,” Burkhart said. “So, this is, you know, a fabulous experience for her. And I wish her all the luck and all the best.”