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Facing challenge with determination

Never doubt how hard Katelyn Hamilton is willing to work. The Randolph County 4-H member has faced serious challenges, yet she has emerged stronger and more determined in spite of them.

Katelyn spent the first 28 days of her life in a neonatal intensive care unit. Doctors said she would likely be wheelchair bound and unable to care for herself. She proved them wrong. At age 5, Katelyn's family home was destroyed, and her family was forced to move frequently.

The challenges continued: Katelyn's parents divorced, she lost a childhood friend and three family friends to cancer, a cousin was killed in an auto accident, and her grandfather suffered a heart attack. In sixth grade, she was removed by her family from school, where she faced bullying daily, and began her homeschool education.

"The real me surfaced and developed with my involvement in 4-H and horses," Katelyn says. "These activities provided my escape from life's trials. Horses became my passion and the love of my life."

Katelyn began 4-H at age 9. Katelyn attended horse camps and took lessons, later riding in shows and joining a horse drill team. Last spring, she taught equine science to youth in Randolph and Perry counties to prepare them for Hippology and horse bowl contests.

"Riding was extremely freeing and a great way to meet new friends who shared a common interest," Katelyn says. When her horse was diagnosed with equineprotozoal myeloencephalitis, she learned as much as she could and volunteered at the local vet office.

"The 4-H horse program provided much more than opportunities for me to gain extensive knowledge of equine," Katelyn says. "They were a platform to build my confidence and develop other life skills."

Katelyn's mother, Mary, says parents face tough choices raising children, but Mary feels the decision to enroll Katelyn in 4-H set her on a path to make wise life choices and realize joy in her life.

Katelyn has achieved national success. She is a member of the Illinois Hippology Team which placed third at the Eastern National 4-H Roundup and fourth at the All American Quarter Horse Congress. She was in the top 20 individuals of the contest in the written test, judging, and overall division. She has won the Superior Young Producer Award and the state's Leadership, Citizenship, and Professionalism Award. Still, it's the stability of 4-H during the turbulent times of her life that Katelyn says means the most to her.


Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager

Judy uses powerful words and photography to tell the Extension story. She is a skilled communication strategist and storyteller with demonstrated success in building teams and creating strong organizational brand identities that deepen Extension’s impact among key audiences, build brand loyalty, strengthen employee talent, and expand public engagement. She is a frequent conference presenter at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference and helps Extension staff across the nation tell compelling stories.