Best at Braille: 10-year-old Carmynn Blakeley to compete in National Braille Challenge

Photo by Alan Warren, Messenger-Inquirer | awarren@messenger-inquirer.com Carmynn Blakeley, 10, right, smiles as she sits on the couch next to her mother, Rebecca Brown on Thursday at their home. Carmynn Blakeley is headed to Los Angeles June 21-22 to compete in the Braille Institute’s National Braille Challenge. It will be her third trip to nationals. Only 50 children are selected from across the U.S. every year. Carmynn is the only Kentuckian competing this year. In her other two attempts, Carmynn placed first and third in her age division.

To say Carmynn Blakeley is rare would be an understatement.

A pretty big one.

The 10-year-old Owensboro girl has competed twice in the Braille Institute's National Braille Challenge, the only academic competition of its kind nationwide for blind students.

When she was a second-grader, she swept her age division and earned the first-place prize -- a BrailleNote Touch tablet. Last year, Carmynn took third place.

Now -- for the third time -- this wunderkind is headed back to the National Braille Challenge June 21-22 in Los Angeles. Carmynn, the daughter of Rebecca and Joshua Brown, is one of only 50 students nationwide to be selected.

Here's how they are chosen:

More than 1,200 students competed in regional battles this year. From those, the Braille Institute selects 10 kids for each of five age categories.

They are not selected one per state. Instead, the Braille Institute chooses the top 50 who scored highest at regional competitions, so some states may not be represented at all.

According to the Braille Institute, Carmynn is the only student from Kentucky in this year's national competition.

"Just being invited to nationals is a huge honor," her mom said. "A lot of children who compete never get to experience that."

This year, Carmynn will be among the older students in her age category, so she's hoping to pull off another big win.

Is she nervous? Nope.

Her mom, however, gets butterflies. "I know how important winning is to her."

Will Carmynn win again? "I am going to try and win. I will do my best. I will try my best not to get frustrated because that would be embarrassing."

She's quick to admit: A tiny diva lurks under the sweet smile, blond hair and blue eyes.

For example, at regionals earlier this year, Carmynn became frustrated during the proofreading portion of the competition.

"I got kinda overwhelmed," she said. "I cried, but I couldn't scream like I do with my electronics when I get frustrated. I knew I might get grounded for a million months if I threw a tantrum at regionals."

As it turned out, Carmynn had every right to fuss that day. Officials issued her age group the wrong test.

Still, she is working on deep breathing and counting to cope with tension.

The prizes in Carmynn's age category at nationals are $400 for first place, $250 for second, $175 for third. Besides cash, winners earn an electronic device, such as the BrailleNote Touch.

"We are so proud of Carmynn and her achievements," said her grandmother, Pamela Iovine of Owensboro. "... These children at the Braille Challenge are nothing short of brilliant."

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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