Showing With A Disability

After winning her class, Madison shakes the judges hand.

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The pig is clipped, fed and rinsed off ready for the show. The showman has a whip in hand, exhibitor number pinned on, and the mindset of a champion. This is what show day looks like for most exhibitors, but for Madison Francis of Clint, Texas, it takes a little more preperation.

Madison shows unimaginable work ethic not only while showing her pigs, but also in her day-to-day life. At a young age, Madison was diagnosed with Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis.

THE DIAGNOSIS

This condition caused Madison to swell, scarring her brain. The scarring caused Madison to have cordial blindness, which means her brain and eyes don’t always send and receive messages correctly causing her to suffer from blindness.

The scarring on her brain has also caused physical handicaps. The swelling is so intense it causes Madison to have mental delays and difficulty walking. ADEM is so rare it affects only one out of every 250,000 people a year. This does not stop Madison from living a happy, fun-filled life with her family and friends and her show pigs.

THE PROCESS

Madison has been showing pigs for three years, and has loved every bit of it. She shows at the Permian Basin Fair, El Paso County, Southern New Mexico State Fair, and recently started showing at San Antonio, Houston and Austin. She has had a successful show career thus far by winning several breed champions and has never had to send her pig to the truck until after the sale.

This success is not just handed to Madison. She spends much of her time out at her family’s barn where she spends time with her pigs getting them ready for the next show. Meagan Francis, Madison’s mother, said when pigs get to the Francis barn, Madison starts working.

“She will sit in the pen petting and feeding her baby pigs marshmallows until they are used to her,” Meagan said.

After the pigs are familiar with her, Madison’s mom brings her wheelchair into the pen. To get the pigs used to being around the wheelchair, Meagan spreads peanut butter on the chair encouraging the pigs, like being around the wheelchair when Madison shows.

Madison, along with her siblings and parents, are at the barn working pigs every night.

“Madison is always reminding us, ‘I need to work with my pigs’ on a daily basis, even when none of the rest of us want to,” Meagan said. “She is so driven and ready to work with her pigs everyday.”

Cassidy Smith, Texas Pork Producers Association communications director, said a dispute in the show industry has been brought up about kids with a disability showing. Some people see it as unfair to other showman that disabled showman could get special treatment or judges could be placing them higher than they deserve. Others see showing as a great way for kids with disabilities to be apart of something other kids are doing and a way to learn responsibility and sportsmanship.

Meagan said she once had a pig breeder complain in front of her how what Madison was doing was cheating because she had someone pushing her.

“He/She said if Madison was going to show, she should be able to do it like any other kid,” Meagan said

Madison needs someone to assist her to push her wheelchair in the ring, but this is the only assistance she requires. Madison’s parents are not allowed to push her in the major show rings, and her siblings are not big enough to do it yet, so it is completely voluntary for someone to push her chair.

“Whoever decides to push Madison has to position the chair to the pig,” Meagan said. “Madison has to be able to reach over the pig to keep it going and keep its head up, but can’t be too far up or the pig will turn.”

THE DISPUTE

On the other side of the dispute, Will Winter, judge and pig breeder at Wintex Farms, is supportive of all kids showing. Winter has judged at major shows, such as Houston, the Oklahoma Youth Expo, World Pork Expo, National Summer Junior Spectacular, the Indiana State Fair, and the Missouri State Fair. Winter said he has judged a few shows with disabled kids showing in it, and they are some of his favorite memories from the show ring.

There is no better program that the kids can do basically the same thing as every other kid and be treated the exact same. Will Winter

Winter said no matter the situation, livestock shows are about the animal, not who is judging it. He said he has also never met a family who had a kid showing with a disability that wanted special treatment. They just want to be treated like everyone else.

“My heart goes out to what they go through daily, and on top of just normal everyday hardships, the demands on what and how they work with their animals to show is truly aspiring,” Winter said. “However, I am hired to line up the show based on the quality of the animals, and I will always continue to do that.”

THE RESULT

Meagan said her biggest joy is seeing the smile on Madison’s face.

“She is so excited every time she comes out of the ring she is smiling. I love the opportunity Madison is given by showing.”

Meagan said it is hard making sure Madison receives the accommodations she needs to show. She said the biggest struggle is accommodating Madison’s wheelchair in the alleyways, before going into the pen, and the holding pens. Making sure theses areas are large enough for Madison’s wheelchair is the main problem they have at shows.

“Madison is a hard worker and normally is required to work three times harder than anyone else showing,” Meagan said. “Her muscle tone is so tight it is hard for her to go for a long period of time without it completely wearing her out.”

Meagan said showing and being around her pigs is something Madison truly loves and enjoys doing everyday. She said showing has taught Madison perseverance and sportsmanship.

“Madison is a hard worker with more drive than most 11-year-olds could even dream of having,” Meagan said. “She has such a positive outlook on life it is truly inspiring to everyone around her.”

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