From Fire and "Friends" to 4-H and Farming

If my present self were to go back in time and have a conversation with my past self to tell her everything that has occurred in my life, my past self would laugh hysterically and deny everything. So much has changed in my life that I don’t even know where to begin to explain it all.

From the time I was born in Michigan to about age 10, life was perfect. I was raised by two happily married parents and I had my older brother, Jacob, to guide me through life as a kid. I was a full time dancer, so my schedule was wake up, go to school, go to dance, go to bed. I was a girly girl who’s favorite color was pink and I loved tutus. By the time I was ten, however, my life wasn’t so perfect.

I was a die heart daddy’s girl. My mom is a teacher at our middle school, and so by the time I woke up, my mom and brother were already in school. So, my dad always woke me up, made me breakfast and got me on the bus. One thing led to another, and it was my mom getting me ready for school. My dad left our family out of the blue, and believe me when I say I was heartbroken. It took me years to get over the fact that my dad left. In the meantime, my mom began to reconnect with her old high school boyfriend, Andy. I tried my hardest to convince my mom that Andy was a bad dude. I mean, sure he built us a back porch from scratch and sure he fixed my door that had creaked for years but I was convinced that he was not a good fit for our family. The reality was that I wasn’t ready for my dad to be replaced. I was not a fan of change whatsoever. And one big change that I underwent was a new house. Well, sort of.

It was March 21st, 2014 when mine and my family’s life was turned upside down, with mine almost taken. We were raising baby chicks at our house for me to show in 4-H. In late March, we decided that it was warm enough for the chicks to live outside in their little tub, however, we kept a heating lamp on them because Indiana weather is so unpredictable. The lamp was heated by an extension cord that ran from outside on our front porch, under our front door and into our house. In the middle of the night on the 21st, around 3:30 A.M., the extension cord experienced a malfunction that caused the cord to burst in a flame. The fire spread rapidly onto the exterior walls of our house, and made its way straight up our house. Guess whose room was right above where the fire started? My mom woke up to an odd stomach ache, causing her to leave her upstairs bedroom to head downstairs for some water. When she reached the top o the stairway, she saw the smoke and the flames and screamed at the top of her lungs. Andy and Jacob woke up right away, while I continued my slumber as the flame made its way into my room. Jacob had to drag me out of my bed for me to wake up and see my life flash before my eyes. My family and I all escaped unharmed, but my show chickens did not. Thus, I didn’t plan on joining 4-H anytime soon. But Andy was bound to change that.

Andy’s family owned and operated Circle S Stables, a family farm where they bred, raised, and showed haflinger horses.Andy and his family tried to get me interested in showing horses, but something about it didn’t really click with me. Well, in July of 2015, Andy took me to our county fair to watch the pig show, for my Pap wanted his granddaughters to show pigs. As I watched the show, something felt off. I had this feeling of amazement. I felt a smile growing on my face. I felt this spark light up in my heart and all of a sudden, my whole body was shaking. I whispered to myself, “That looks fun,” and my mom got right in my face and began to interrogate me on what I had just said. Soon, my whole family was freaking out over my quote of showing pigs. I thought everyone dropped the situation, but when Christmas came around, my Pap bought me my own show stick. That is when I knew that I was really doing this. I was really about to be a pig owner.

In the midst of all of the pig craziness, I was struggling in school. Academically, I was great. I just couldn’t seem to find my place, where I belonged, what my thing was. I thought it was dance, I thought it was gymnastics, and I thought it was swimming. I found myself with a large friend group in 6th grade that eventually diminished in 7th, which led to my rock bottom. I was bullied. Constantly. Every day. I was a tomboy, so it was a tshirt and shorts with a slick back ponytail everyday, while the other girls were wearing the latest Pink and Rue 21 tops and the most expensive makeup to be found. These girls made sure that I knew that I didn’t dress like them with harsh words,  occasional bookchecks, and cyberbullying. But I assure you, as much pain, physical and emotional, that I went through, there is a happy ending.

I joined 4-H the summer after my 8th grade year, and it was the best decision of my life. I started off showing two pigs, a landrace and yorkshire barrow named Titan and Timone. I learned how to be responsible by rationing out feed for each pig and making sure each one had at least 20 minutes of practice a day, I developed a tighter bond with my step dad, and of course, I gained some knowledge about agriculture. After my first year of 4-H, I was convinced by Andy to join Junior Leaders. I instantly clicked with everyone. I was surrounded by cattle producers, junior photographers, just overall amazing people that all shared a strong passion for 4-H. It was at my very first meeting that I knew: this was where I belonged. All of my years of struggle, despair, and depression were finally way behind me. My new life had begun.

From there, there’s 3 grand champions at the 2017 Shelby County Fair, serving as Junior Leader secretary and currently, vice president, speaking at the elementary schools for 4-H promotion week, serving as a camp counselor for 4-H and Mini 4-H Camp, and recently, 2 Grand Champions at the 2018 Indiana State Fair in Lama Fiber Craft and Professional Persuasive Presentation. To walk alongside of 4-H, I joined my school’s brand new FFA program, where I currently serve as chapter vice president and participate in contests such as Livestock Skillathon, Forestry, Livestock Judging, and the Prepared Public Speaking LDE, which I won at the District 8 contest and 4th at state. These organizations have shown me who I am because at one point in time, I had no clue who I was. Now, I’m responsible for 10 pigs, a Simmental Steer, an alpaca, 3 goats and 7 horses at the barn. I love going to the barn and working my animals and getting better each day. The barn is where I belong; not on the dance stage, not in the gym, but in the barn and in the show ring. Do I always win? No. In fact, I took 4 pigs around the swine circuit and never won anything higher than second to last place. But I gained experience and I had fun. Isn’t that what 4-H and FFA is all about? Learning and having fun. I had hit rock bottom and I didn’t know what to do, but these organizations saved my life and I couldn’t be more grateful. From here, I plan to finish out my last 2 years of 4-H and FFA and try new contests and projects each year. I want to share my story with as many youth as possible and tell them that there is always a light at the end of the dark tunnel. I love public speaking, and I have used my passion to share my story with my Junior Leader club, but I hope to expand from there. My goal is to get my story out there and advocate for agriculture, for 4-H, and for FFA. I may not have been completely raised in a barn, but I definitely feel like I’ve lived in our barn for my whole life.

By Guest Blogger Julia Hamblen

My name is Julia Hamblen, I’m 17 years old and I’m from Shelbyville, Indiana. I’m going into my 2nd year of FFA and my 4th year in 4-H. I love raising and showing pigs, beef cattle, dog, cat, goats, sheep, and alpacas. With livestock, I also enjoy being in NHS, Latin Club, as well as writing and public speaking.

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