LIMA — Jackson Lee may not be able to talk, but that doesn’t mean he can’t communicate.
His ear-to-ear grin last Sunday during lamb showmanship said it all.
“He just always enjoyed being around the animals and around lambs,” said his father, Joel Lee. “You know, his smile kind of says it all. When he’s giggling and having fun with everyone watching, we thought, ‘We could probably make something like this work.”
Jackson, 10, of Spencerville and a member of Amanda Ag 4-H Club, finished 10th in the competition but first in many hearts in the crowd. He’s wheelchair-bound with Joubert syndrome, a rare brain disorder affecting his ability to control much of his body.
His oldest cousin, Olivia Conley, pushed his wheelchair around the arena, while Jackson used a specially designed harness to control his lambs, Lester and Chester. Two other cousins, Isabella and Owen Conley, also helped throughout the week.
Chester and Jackson were a good match for the showmanship competition — both perhaps counted out because of their ailments growing up but still ready to succeed.
“He actually came out with a broken leg. He had a cast. He was handled a lot,” Miranda Lee said. “He was already very tame. So they felt like we would do good with Jackson.”
Joel Lee added, “He had a good demeanor.”
Six years earlier, Jackson had a kidney transplant, making his road to recovery and his participation in the fair even more meaningful for the Lees.
Jackson put his time in with his lambs, getting to know them and getting them to know him. While parents and relatives can help with the care of an animal, showmanship competitions show the animal’s comfort with the individual person. That’s where Jackson’s dedication paid off.
“Luckily the lambs live at our house, so we were able to go out with him every day, a couple times a day,” Joel Lee said. “It was normally early morning or late evening when it cooled down. He does better when it’s not so hot.”
Jackson’s really been able to enjoy seeing his extended 4-H family come together to help him succeed. The Allen County Board of Developmental Disabilities shared photos from Jackson’s big day on Facebook on Tuesday, and that post was shared more than 1,400 times.
Jackson’s parents grew up participating in 4-H and the fair. They enjoyed seeing so much support wherever they went during the fair.
“Other barns interact with Jackson. He’s made a lot of friends with these kids,” Miranda Lee said. “The kids have learned a lot from him, seeing that, you know, if he can do it, any kid can do this. It’s just putting in the work and finding something you like to do.”
That’s not to say there weren’t some nerves for Miranda Lee. Any mother would have them the first time she sees her child in the center of the ring at the fair.
“You hope you made the best decision because obviously, he couldn’t tell us,” Miranda Lee said. “But we had multiple smiles tell us that, yeah, he loved doing that. That made us know, and I’m sure we’ll be back again for years to come.”