Weston Bernau

Fillmore Central third-grader Weston Bernau answers questions from judge Mallarie Boone about his rabbit, Oplee, at the showmanship table during the Fillmore County Fair rabbit show on July 18. 

PRESTON — A Fillmore Central third-grader is cruising through his first season of 4-H, and that's not referring to his John Deere wheelchair. 

Weston Bernau, 9, of Fountain, is a part of the Carimona Cruisers 4-H club in Fillmore County. He showed his rabbit, Oplee, on July 18 for the first time during the Fillmore County Fair Rabbit Show. 

He was born with muscular dystrophy, a set of genetic diseases that all cause muscle loss and progressive weakness. Bernau was diagnosed when he was one.

Bernau said that working alongside fellow students as well as with animals has made his first year participating in 4-H a fun one. For Bernau, the experience of showing and learning about rabbits is balanced with the joy he gets spending time with them.  

"I like showing them and playing with them," said Bernau of rabbits. "Basically practicing (for 4-H shows) is playing with them." 

He's responsible for caring for Oplee, which means making sure he's fed and has water, as well as watching his health when the temperature rises. 

4-Hers are allowed to pick from the many breeds of rabbits to raise and show. Through the rabbit project, students learn about breeding, handling, showing, health, pedigrees and record keeping.

Dawn Bernau, Weston's mom, said it was no surprise that her son wanted to get involved in 4-H. The family lives on a farm and she showed 4-H for 10 years in the same Carimona Cruisers club. 

"Rabbits was the best option for him to start with," said Bernau, as Weston zoomed past her out of the barn with a white rabbit clasped in his lap.  

He was going outside because it was too crowded, Weston told his mom. She advised the student who the rabbit belonged to that he was "not to drive too fast with her rabbit". 

She said Weston also showed his horse at the fair, during this year's new Challenged Rider Program. Having MD hasn't prevented her son from making the most out of 4-H, said Bernau. 

"He's just like any other normal kid," she said. "He's just in a chair." 

Last year, Bernau was picked to be the local ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Minnesota. As ambassador, he represents MDA at events across Southeast Minnesota.

Dawn Bernau said her son has learned responsibility from caring for his animals along with other lifelong skills. 

"He's learning the skills which 4-H is all about," said Bernau. "Being a good friend and helping others when you can, especially during the fair, and helping volunteer with your club." 

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