GREENFIELD — Juliannah Jenkins and Monty the alpaca looked every part the prizefighting duo; Juliannah had her boxing gloves, and Monty sported a helmet and T-shirt reading “Fight like a girl.”
It was one of the more unusual getups in Sunday’s Llama and Alpaca Costume Contest at the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds, but for the Jenkins family, the event was about more than winning.
Juliannah’s mother, Angie Jenkins, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December. Sunday, her 9-year-old daughter used her 4-H project as an opportunity to raise awareness for her mother’s illness.
“It’s very cool,” Angie Jenkins said.
She has already undergone one surgery, chemotherapy and is now preparing to start radiation.
But Angie Jenkins says she’s not the only one who’s had it rough.
“It’s been a very tough journey for a 9-year-old,” she said.
Clad from head to toe in pink, the signature color for the fight against the disease, Juliannah and Monty reminded the crowd that some battles have a lifelong impact. Their theme was a positive one: Angie Jenkins’ cancer is responding well to the treatment.
The event, which takes place the first weekend of the fair, is among the fair’s most playful, with 4-H’ers delighting the crowd with their creativity and dedication to making the infamously stubborn llamas and alpacas cooperate.
The animals don’t like having their heads and necks touched, so the more successfully a costume covers those areas and stays put, the more points a 4-H’er receives from the judges.
The 4-H’ers are typically in costume, too, partnering with their animals in hopes of creating the perfect theme. Sunday brought out the likes of Popeye and Olive Oyl, a doctor and his patient, Santa and his elves and others.
Naomi Robertson wore a wig and painted her face dark green to become “Fiona,” the female ogre from the popular children’s movie, “Shrek.”
Naomi, 16, was recently part of Greenfield-Central High School’s production of “Shrek the Musical,” an experience that inspired the llama costume.
“I just figured, ‘why not?’” said Naomi, who dressed her llama, Peyton, as “Donkey,” Fiona’s faithful companion.
Bailey Chrabascz and her alpaca, Avacuchio, came to the contest as newlyweds. Avacuchio wore a bridal gown – a lucky garage sale find – and carried a bouquet of flowers, while Bailey sweated out the event in a tux and top hat.
Bailey, 9, said every 4-H’er learns what tricks will keep their animal happy while getting them into costume.
“We had to feed him animal crackers the whole time,” she said. “He would jump around a lot.”
Alie Bewley, 10, was dressed Sunday as a bumblebee, while LeBron the alpaca was transformed into a field of wildflowers.
Alie admitted she didn’t know much about her animal’s namesake.
“He’s a basketball player?” she said tentatively. “I don’t know him. I just know my alpaca.”
Alie’s mother, Shelley Bewley, said working on the project has done wonders for her daughter’s confidence, even outside the show arena. The hard work and responsibility have been reflected in her school work.
“It’s helped her tremendously,” Bewley said.
Lily Haeberle, 9, is in her first year of showing and said she enjoys the versatility of the llama and alpaca project, which spans a variety of events.
“There’s so many things you can do with them,” said Lily, donning a Greek goddess costume alongside Triumph, her alpaca, who was dressed as a Greek god.
Not that the process is always easy.
“Getting him in the costume is the reward in and of itself,” said Lily‘s mother, Laura Haeberle.
Haeberle said she appreciates that the llama and alpaca project has given her daughter the opportunity to work on a livestock project despite not living on a farm.
Her daughter is one of many 4-H’ers who partner with area livestock owners to use their animals.
“It’s been a fabulous experience,” she said.