Autistic middle school student shines at RGV Livestock Show

SANTA ROSA — Mark J. Chairez Jr., known by friends and family as Markj, recently competed for the first time at this year’s Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo in Mercedes.

For a full week, Markj, a 12-year-old who attends Jo Nelson Middle school in Santa Rosa, walked around the show pens dressed in snazzy western wear as he showed off his 265-pound hog, Shrek, in front of hundreds of spectators.

When the dust finally settled, Markj and Shrek finished in 12th place.

“But even if he had finished in dead last, it didn’t matter,” said Markj’s father, Mark J. Chairez Sr.

“It was the best day ever,” exclaimed Markj’s mother, Amie. “I got very emotional and even cried a little.”

Mark and Amie’s reaction toward their son’s achievement might seem a bit extreme, but considering that Markj is autistic and not accustomed to participating in such a social event, their feelings are understandable.

“To be honest, I really didn’t think he could do it and I was sick to my stomach when I thought about him having to go out there with Shrek,” said Amie. “I mean, Markj is used to a certain daily routine and having things a certain way, and being at the stock show threw all that off.

“Also, he’s not very social and used to being around lots of people. But despite the crowds and everything, he did wonderfully.”

Despite their initial concerns, Amie and Mark decided to get Markj involved in the stock show because of his love of animals.

“Our younger son, Zachary, had been involved in the stock show before and we just thought that maybe it would be a good idea to involve Markj,” said Mark. “However, we never imagined he would do as well as he did. We’ll definitely be back next year.”

Amie and Mark credit several people for helping Markj throughout the event, especially officials at the RGV Livestock Show.

“They did everything they could to help Markj along the way,” Amie said. “There were times when I felt they could have told us to get lost, but they never did that. They were very accommodating.”

“Also, the Law Office of Celeste Vasquez was instrumental in securing us an air conditioned trailer that Markj could spend time in when he wasn’t showing,” Mark said. “For someone like Markj, being outside in the heat can be very uncomfortable, but thanks to the trailer he was able to deal with that.”

Finally, Markj’s parents are very grateful to the entire Santa Rosa community.

“They backed Markj throughout the whole process,” Amie said. “From the Santa Rosa 4-H Club and FFA, to the Santa Rosa school district, to everyone in the town, they encouraged Markj and cheered him along the way. They made the event one of the best things to ever happen to our family.”