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4-H ‘family’ helps Gillette youth compete at Campbell fair

Adeline Norstegaard (from left), Turbo, Sy Blessing and Bumper. (Mary Stroka/County 17)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — With help from family and friends, a Gillette youth who was in a crash in early June will still be able to have his sheep participate in the Campbell County Fair.

Sy Blessing, 17, sustained a broken foot and a broken leg at the ankle that evening and spent 10 days in the hospital, according to his mom, Brandey. Sy’s currently using a wheelchair, which makes it impossible to lead his lambs into the fair’s show ring or to get to the sheep barns at his family’s home, like he’s done for the past several years. Sy said he shows at about six shows a year and has been showing for about five years.

Rather than letting him sit on the sidelines of this year’s Campbell County Fair, his friends and family, and government officials, are making sure the show goes on.

The Campbell County Fair board on July 11 decided that as long as Sy is inside the gate of the show ring so he can answer judges’ questions, his parents can care for and feed Sy’s animals at the fair.

Jamie Cockburn, Sy’s 4-H club leader and a friend of the Blessing family, said several members of the club have stepped in to work Sy’s sheep, clean pens, feed lambs and visit him. Her daughter, Makenna, shows sheep with Sy and will help him at this year’s fair.

Brandey said that the times Sy has been able to go to lamb practices, Adeline Norstegaard, Makenna and Jamie helped train Sy’s lambs to show.

After all, Sy — an active, competitive 4-H member — has been a positive role model for Makenna for years, Jamie said. Sy is humble and down-to-earth.

“She adores him and his family,” Jamie said. “Helping Sy wasn’t a question.”

She believes the Blessing family would help their family, too, had the roles been reversed.

“4-H is a family. We are a team. Many people think that livestock is a ‘me and I’ event, but families, clubs, mentors and breeders all make this possible,” Jamie said. “When we say ‘show family,’ we mean it. We will all make sure that Sy’s hard work and investments in his stock don’t go unnoticed this year, even if we have to cart him in the ring in a [wheelbarrow].”

Adeline Norstegaard, left, and Sy Blessing at Wyoming State Fair in August 2019 (Brandey Blessing)

Norstegaard, a fellow 4-H member who’s known Sy since they were in late elementary school, said that when she first found out that Sy was in a vehicle crash, she was scared.

“You always hear it happens, but you never really hear it happens to people you know,” she said. “It was really uneventful after that because all that he broke was his feet. I was expecting worse after I saw pictures of the truck.”

She said she was comfortable continuing the playful teasing part of her friendship with Sy. She came to the Blessing family’s home to help take care of the sheep for several days while Blessing was working and busy at the hospital with Sy, right after the state finals. Since Norstegaard didn’t have a ton of time, it helped that they live close to each other. She bonded with Bumper, a lamb that’s fond of consistently, assertively coming up to people and asking to be scratched.

“[He] wants to be everybody’s friend,” she said.

She said she’s shown sheep for roughly six years and while she always wants to beat Sy, she can’t really be too mad if she loses because he and other 4-H club members work hard.

“It’s important to have friends that can help you,” she said she learned through the experience. “If that would have happened to me, I would have needed someone to do my chores, because [the sheep] need fed.”

Brandey said that for years, Adeline and Sy have been helping each other care for their lambs when it comes to shearing or giving shots to the lambs or if one of them has to be out of town.

“These two are pretty much hooked at the hip since they began showing,” Brandey said.

The Blessing family has also received a lot of support from breeder Kent Elliott of Newcastle.

Sy said this year’s county fair will be a weird experience for him, but he’s not overly disappointed. He plans to participate in shows later this year. He’ll be able to start putting weight on one of his feet in about a week.

While he’s had limited opportunity to leave home since the crash since it’s hard for his parents to get him into the family’s truck, Sy has an extremely positive attitude, which is awesome, Brandey said.

Sy Blessing at Battle of the Bighorns in May 2023 (Brandey Blessing)