As athletes gear up for the Olympic Games in a couple of weeks, another big competition is on the horizon.
A local, visually-impaired student has worked for seven years to become a finalist in the national 2021 Braille Challenge.
Andy Shen of San Luis Obispo is a skilled classical pianist with hopes of making it a career.
His hands are the instruments he uses to communicate - both through music and in life.
Shen is visually-impaired and prides himself in using braille to read and write. He started learning braille at the young age of five.
"Although it’s difficult to be blind, it helps us communicate and us to understand how excited people are," Shen said.
Now a San Luis Obispo High School student, Shen has become very good at using braille to communicate. He has spent the last seven years competing in the Braille Institute's Braille Challenge, striving to be one of the best competitors in the country.
The Braille Challenge has been around for 20 years, giving those who are visually-impaired an opportunity to exceed their limits and shine.
“The Braille Challenge is the only academic competition of its kind in North America and Canada for students who are blind and visually-impaired. It motivates kids in grades 1 through 12 to hone their braille literacy skills,” said Rachel Antoine, Manager of National Programs and Services of The Braille Institute.
For the annual event, students are tested on a variety of skills, including reading comprehension, speed and accuracy, and charts and graphs.
Out of more than 1000 people who take part in the competition - 50 become a finalist.
This year, Shen is one of them.
The Braille Challenge is much more than learning. Antoine explains, it also fosters lasting relationships.
"Sometimes these kids are the only visually-impaired students in their school or in their district, so it's allowing them to come together to meet and the parents to connect," said Antoine. "We have a group of finalists, they get together every year, because they always make it to finals. They have some of the highest scores and they formed a singing group. They are best friends. I just know that I will follow these stories, well beyond after they’ve aged out of our program."
Although Shen still has a couple of years left to participate, he does have words of wisdom to hand down.
I want people to know that I am a persistent person. I never give up no matter what. I have not gotten into finals until this year. I kept trying and learned from my past experiences," said Shen.
This year, the finals are virtual due to the pandemic, so each student is taking part at home.
The winners of the 2021 Braille Challenge will be announced on July 30.