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Garfield Elementary second grader set to compete at Braille Challenge National Finals

SPOKANE, Wash. - He's seen by his teachers as "larger than life" and now, Garfield Elementary second grader Russell Winkler gets to share his spirit with the rest of the country.

"He has a huge personality. He's a great student, always eager to learn and comes to school just full of energy and a thirst for knowledge," says Russell's teacher Lonna Gately. "He is like a, truly one in a million student for us."

Lonna has worked with Russell since he was just six months old. She says what he lacks in sight, he makes up for in spirit.

"I am visually impaired. Visually impaired means blind," Russell said. "Sometimes, it's hard and stressful but most of the time really fun and cool."

What's happening now is one of those times. Russell is getting ready to represent not only Spokane, but the entire state, at the Braille Challenge National Finals next month. This isn't his first go-around, either. Russell competed last year as a first grader against third graders, but it didn't go nearly as well as it did this year.

"For you guys that might not know, the Braille Challenge is where you have to do proofreading, reading and spelling. It's pretty challenging," says Russell. "I was not that good of a Braille reader last year. I had trouble with my alphabet. Now, in second grade, I'm on fire!"

The challenge started last year as a way to motivate Russell to keep up with his Braille -- not that he really needed it.

"You could tell at an early age he was just gonna do big things," Lonna says. "I am over the moon proud of him. I couldn't ask for a better student than Russell."

The ever-spirited eight-year-old will set off to Los Angeles next month for his shot at winning the Braille Challenge in the apprentice division over nine other students from across the country. The National Finals are set for June 21 and 22 at USC. Good luck, Russell!


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