I have been asked more times than I can count what it means to be on a livestock judging team. I could always formulate an answer, so at least they could act like they understood. However, it took exactly one calendar year to actually know what it means to be on a livestock judging team.
Being on a judging team is not for the weak. There are many sacrifices that are to be made in order to give it your all. Many will compare being on a livestock judging team to collegiate sports, and in some ways they are correct. However, where we differ from dribbling a ball, kicking a field goal, or hitting a homerun is we never stop. “There is no rest for the wicked” is a motto that the Western Illinois Judging team lives by, and that is where what we do becomes so hard to understand. There are many sacrifices that are made for the gifts that are to be gained.
Livestock judging team members are not the average college student. Not only are they incredibly competent livestock evaluators, but they are also outstanding students. In fact former team member Katie Lewis is actually graduating a semester early in December of 2015. She is a 3.6 GPA student and will graduate with honors with a Bachelor degree in Agriculture Science with a minor in Agronomy. This is far beyond being great at multitasking. Those eight hours of sleep that is recommended are hard to obtain if you are on the WIU livestock judging team. Not only do you get up before the sun to crawl in a dirty, pungent smelling van with ten other people, but most homework is completed either late at night in hotel rooms, or in the school van while on the road. I cannot tell you the amount of times we drove through the night to get to our next destination. I cannot tell you the amount of times we ran on fewer than three hours of sleep just to do what we love, but most importantly I cannot tell you the amount of time I laughed until I cried.
TIME AWAY FROM HOME
It comes to no surprise the members of this years judging team come from a very strong livestock and farming background from all over the nation. It is a very diverse team with many different species of interest such as: cattle, sheep, hogs, or even grain. Those that can relate know how hard it is to be away from home while babies are hitting the ground, or even when the crops are being taken out of the fields. After discussing some things with my teammates I came to the consensus that the hardest sacrifice made was time spent away from home. Hank LeVan, a stockman from Woodstock, Ohio says it best. “The hardest thing to give up to be on the team was the time spent away from home. However, that takes me to my next point, it was totally worth it. The memories made and the knowledge gained are both irreplaceable.” It is not very often we get to travel home and see our families. In fact Brenen Diesen, team member, stated in a Facebook status, “I can see my family for the first time since July.”
Some may think that this is not really a big thing to let go of, but until they drive 2,000 miles across the country in six days they do not realize how valuable personal space can become. For an entire year I crawled in the judging van, and spent countless hours with the same ten people. There is no doubt we have stories and memories that will forever remain trapped inside the doors of the van, but it also comes to no surprise that by the end of those trips we needed our space. One of Hank LeVan’s fondest memories was the very first van ride with the team, “Awkward and segregated on the way to our very first workout. But by the time we made it back to Macomb everyone was engaged in conversation and probably knew too much about each other.” For the girls, you can forget about your personal mirror time. Instead you are forced to share with at least two other girls, and that can become difficult with only one mirror.
Although there are sacrifices to be made, the list of positives far exceed the negatives. As my collegiate judging career came to an end on November 16, 2015, at the North American International Livestock Exposition, I reflected on my experience the past five years being a competitor, and I could not hold back my emotions. I can not wrap up into one blog post about what an incredible journey it was been. It was nothing short of extraordinary. I struggle to put words together on just how amazing it has been, so I will leave it to a few of my teammates. Hank- “Being on the team gave me an opportunity to work with great people who are similar to myself. Driven, passionate, and relentless to be nothing but the best. My time in the van will always have a special place in my heart.” Brenen- “At the end of the day, the banners will fade and the buckles will tarnish, but the relationships we have built will last a lifetime.”
This post was not easy for me to put together, but now that I have gathered my composure I would like to add a final few thoughts. At times I may have wanted to strangle a few of you, but there is not a single dollar amount that I would trade any of you or memories for. I cannot even begin to thank not only my teammates for being the coolest, most competent stock people, but I could not have grown into the person I am today without all seven of my coaches the past five years. In the moment we complained about things like the weather, lack of sleep, and loss of free time. However, now that the day has come we stepped out of the pungent smelling van with poor climate control for the final time our lives as we “knew” it has come to a close. The only things we have left to complain about is how bored we are, and how much we miss life on the road with our makeshift family. If I had the opportunity to go back and do it all over again there would be no hesitation. I will cherish each and every one of you, and our memories shared together forever and always.
My name is Jennifer Livermore. I am a senior at Western Illinois University majoring in Agriculture Science with a minor in Animal Science. I am from Media, Illinois, and grew up on our diverse family farm with 1,500 acres of crop ground, 150 head breeding sheep operation, and 30 head show pig operation. I have a very strong passion for the livestock industry and hope to one day judge major livestock expositions. Being a part of a livestock judging team has been my life my entire college career. My journey started at Lincoln Land Community College where I not only competed for LLCC, but was also a member of the Illinois State 4-H team. I later transferred to WIU to further pursue my dreams. It has been an amazing few years, and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead of me in the future.