When I think of operating amateur radio, I think about DXing and contesting. I consider myself to be a casual DXer. I rarely tried to catch DX during working hours, and rarely get up early or stay up late to find a new one. On the other hand, contest stations are pretty effective, and after years of operating, I did work everything a few years back. I got enthusiastic and hunted down cards that I had not sent for after quite a few years. I now have a #1 honor roll plaque, and will keep working new ones as they show up. I let the computer track my band/countries, but am not too aggressive at trying to work everything on every band and mode. If a good operator shows up, or a nice pileup is out there, I will try to work it.
Contesting is something I take a little more seriously. Most weekends, I will take some time here and there and get on the various contests to keep in shape. I try to send in my log whenever I operate any events. Each year I devote close to the full 48 hours to the CQ WW CW and SSB contests, and the ARRL DX CW and SSB contests. These are the 4 events that the Frankford Radio club puts its full effort behind. I usually make a serious effort at field day. In recent years I've entered the 1 B Battery, 1 operator class, and find the QRP, battery operation very relaxing and quiet. Field day is still a great way to know you are ready for emergency operation, should the need arise.
My favorite mode of participation is in the Single Operator Assisted category. This permits me to monitor the DX cluster during the contest, and may help to raise my point total for our club effort. I usually keep the monitor on and enter as a one man Multi Op, in events that do not have an assisted class.
There are operators that try to choose a category where they can win at some level, in the various contests. I usually operate in the class where I feel I can make the most points, although I sometimes do QRP for a change of pace. Most contests offer certificates for various categories and locations, and I have received my share over the years. A few events offer plaques, and from time to time, medals.
Many of the operators that I contact for brief periods of time, in the contests, have been my colleagues for 30 or 40 years. From time to time we meet for chats between, contests, and it is like running into an old friend. Even though our contest contacts are very brief, there is certainly a fraternal relationship among those of us who participate regularly. In recent years I have been getting to the Dayton Hamvention, and having the great pleasure of actually meeting many of the contesters from all over the world. Sooner or later, it seems like almost everyone shows up at the Contesters Super Suite at the Crowne Plaza. I am presently a member of the CQ World Wide DX Contest Committee, helping with log checking, and serving a term on the ARRL Contest Advisory Committee.