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April 8, 2003

Hearing challenge doesn't impair FFAer's successes

From: Sulphur Springs Country World News, TX - Apr 8, 2003

By LYNN MONTGOMERY | East Texas Edition
April 10, 2003 -- "You can't learn anything if you stay at home," a Waskom couple believes. Following that advice from a friend, Jim and Nancy Dillard's daughter, Jena, hasn't thought twice about getting out there.

Jena is hearing impaired, yet her parents gave her the opportunity to do something she loved - being around animals.

Jena began showing pigs (and winning) at a young age.

"I showed my first pig when I was 4-years-old," Jena said, "and I won."

Four-years-old and winning was not a surprise to the Dillard family. Jim and his brothers and sister raised and showed livestock. Today, Jerry and Jack Dillard are high school ag teachers. Jack is Jena's ag teacher at Waskom but it is Jerry or "Uncle Bo, my American Hero" who is Jena's favorite.

Jena's hearing loss occurred after contacting meningitis when she was 22-months-old.

"She was almost 3 before we realized she couldn't hear," Jim, Jena's dad said. "She started private school when she was 3, but when she was old enough, she went to public school."

Jena said her biggest obstacle has been to get the teachers to look towards the class when teaching because she has to be able to see their lips move as they talk.

In the show ring, Jena keeps her eyes on the judge. If the judge points at her, she usually knows what is expected.

"She is very observant,"said Nancy. "She probably could tell you what color shirt everyone in the show ring has on."

Nancy added that the judges are told before the show that if they need to ask Jena a question, she has to see their lips.

"The audiologist in Dallas said Jena was one of the best she had ever seen at reading lips," Jim acknowledged.

Last year, for some unknown reason, Jena lost complete hearing in one ear and was beginning to lose all hearing in the other.

"We were sent to Dallas to see an ear specialist who told us Jena needed a cochlear implant," Jim added.

After the surgery, Jena's life changed. Sounds that most take for granted, Jena was now hearing.

"I could hear birds singing, doors slamming, and music," Jena replied.

Currently, a senior at Waskom High School, Jena's love for animals continues. Not only is she a member of FFA and the show team, she also is on the National Honor Society and works part-time at Marshall Animal Clinic.

"Her livestock projects have helped her more than any doctor could ever have," Jim said.

Jena's livestock projects have earned her 17 championships at the Harrison County show, where she repeated as champion this year with her pig, goat and lamb.

"The repeat wins this year are unheard of," Jim said.

Wonder what it takes to win in each category?

Jena said she works with her animals two to three hours a day. She also advises exhibitors should know their animal.

At this year's show, held March 17-22, Jena said her plan was to sell her champion goat and donate the money to the county scholarship fund.

"I'll keep the money from the pig and lamb," the FFA'er said.

"I like showing pigs best," Jena said. "I like all the hard work and accomplishments."

Hard work does not come easy. Jena said her day begins at 5:30 a.m. with feeding the barn full of animals; around 11 sows, and about 30 nannies. Then it is off to school, then to work, then home for more feeding and practicing with the animals, with the day ending around 11 p.m. or midnight.

"This year has been a family affair because Jena is the last one to get home because of working after school," Jim said. "Next to church, there is nothing better to do than agriculture to bring a family together."

Jim advised parents "to find out what your child wants to show and get it. Set goals and do everything" you can to help that child grow.

With Jena's high school career coming to an end, the senior has set new goals - and again, it involves not staying at home.

"I am going to Panola for the first year and then transfer to Sul Ross in Alpine. I want to be a vet tech," Jena said.

Jim said that they are not worried about Jena going all the to Sul Ross. "She will be just fine as long as there are animals."

© 2003, Echo Publishing Company