PINCKNEYVILLE — Seeing the smile on her 11-year-old daughter's face was well worth the work Katie Williams put in this past year helping her daughter sell rubber duckies.
In the end, Katie’s daughter, Abbigail Williams, sold more than 1,200 of the ducks in a fundraiser that benefits Special Olympics Illinois. For her work selling the most duckies, Abbi won the title of ambassador for the 2017 Ducky Derby race. That event, the Southern Illinois Ducky Derby Dash, begins with a parade at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, in the lake behind the Exhibition Hall at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds.
The duckies can be adopted for $5 each; winners of the dash can walk away with any number of prizes, including a $1,000 cash prize.
There Abbi was — riding on the back top of a little red convertible on Friday evening in the Twilight Parade that annually kicks off the Du Quoin State Fair — waving to the crowd, sometimes entertaining them, as her mother walked alongside the car.
"I didn't know how much she would like it until the parade," Williams said.
"She’s nonverbal, so just (to see) her face, the way she smiled and wore her crown and sash and dress … she knew she was something big.”
Katie said when she pulled out the tiara Abbi was to wear in the parade, her daughter immediately went and pulled out a leopard-print dress to wear with it — never mind that her mother had picked out a dressier dress for her to wear in the parade.
"We argued a little bit over what dress to wear; she was insistent on her leopard print," her mother said. In her leopard print on Friday, Abbi had apparently won that argument.
Abbi was born with Down syndrome and is mostly nonverbal, Katie said. She tries to encourage her daughter to speak by telling her to use words to communicate, but Abbi mainly uses her pointing to communicate, her mother said.
Abbi's doctors though, have told Katie some of the medications and treatments she had to take for leukemia might have impacted her ability to speak. But Katie is not sure what caused her daughter to be nonverbal, noting that some children with Down syndrome can also experience that.
Abbi was an 18-month-old when she was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells. Now 11, Abbi has another year of blood tests to take before her doctors sign off on her as healed, her mother said.
Katie was pleased to see her daughter, who enjoys making others laugh, seeming to enjoy her experience in Friday's Twilight Parade. She called her a "goof-ball," saying at one point in the parade, she grabbed her stomach and started laughing, making a group of guys watching laugh with her.
This is Abbi's second year with Special Olympics, in which she competes in the softball throw. She also enjoys playing basketball, building with her Legos and playing outside, Katie said. Supporting her in her work is her father and a 4-year-old sister, Isabel.
“Honestly, the whole point of this is to raise money for Special Olympics," her mother said of the Ducky Derby. “If that brings a smile to their faces — like Abbi had on her face on Friday evening, though some people don’t think it’s a big deal, the stuff they do … it’s something big to them, and they don’t know any different, just seeing their faces light up, just because they’re able to do this stuff — that should be reason enough.”