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4-H competitor with rare disease inspires others

Mary Kate Bigelow is challenging everyone she meets to see past her disability.

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - If you're looking for a standout 4-H competitor at the Minnesota State Fair, don't overlook a girl who can't stand up.

Even though Mary Kate Bigelow needs a wheelchair to move, she has found a way to show her goat with a specially designed cart.

"A goat just doesn't get on a cart and walk," said Mary Kate's mom, Donna Bigelow. "It takes a lot of hours of walking and training and she's out there every night with that goat."

Donna says that commitment has only grown stronger, despite the fact that Mary Kate's body has steadily grown weaker.

"She was born with a rare muscle disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy," Donna said. "We were told she'd have three years, about, to live, if we were lucky."

Remarkably, Mary Kate is now 17 years old and continues to defy every expectation.

"Have we proved them wrong?" Donna said. "Yes, we have."

Mary Kate is also now proving that she belongs among the best 4-H competitors in the state. She won Reserve Champion at the Dakota County Fair, and she now has a bigger audience to impress.

"We always have told her there's nothing she can't do, we just have to find a way to do it, and she can do it," Donna said.

Mary Kate is also bringing her message to a 4-H video competition. She created a movie by herself, using a computer that she can control with her eyes. The message? "See Me First, Not My Disability"

"Because she's in a wheelchair and is physically very weak, people assume she has a cognitive deficit and that's hard for her," Donna said.

But it's something she and her friend Hannah are more than willing to address. During the goat competition, a judge walked up to Hannah and began to speak, but she reminded him to address Mary Kate directly.

"Yeah, that was nice. That was very nice," Donna said. "(Mary Kate) said, 'That was my favorite part.'"

In addition to educating others, Mary Kate finished third overall and fourth in showmanship.

"I want to show people they can do whatever they put their mind to," Mary Kate said.

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