A two-time international champion resides right here in Johnson County.
Brooke Petro, a 9-year-old Leawood resident, recently won her second Braille Challenge, an academic competition for visually impaired students from the United States and Canada put on by the Braille Institute in Los Angeles.
After winning the Apprentice Division (first and second grades) last summer, Brooke, who will be a fourth-grader this fall at the Kansas School for the Blind, returned to the finals in Los Angeles in June. She then won the Freshman Division, which covers third and fourth grades.
“I was really happy and relieved when they announced my name as the winner at the awards banquet,” Brooke said. “I was putting my head on the table we were sitting at because I was so nervous.”
Contestants take three 50-minute tests of spelling, proofreading and reading comprehension in a four-hour block. Scores from each test are combined and the contestant with the highest overall score marks the champion.
At the awards banquet this year, the third-place and second-place finishers of all the age divisions were announced before the champions were recognized.
After a long wait, Brooke, her parents Soren and Lyn, and her sister Carly finally heard Brooke announced as the Freshman winner.
“When they announced I won, I hugged my parents and my sister started jumping up and down and screaming,” Brooke said. “It’s something I’m proud of.”
Brooke said she likes all three phases of the competition, but what she likes most about the event is going to the swimming pool with all the other contestants at the hotel where the awards banquet is held and most of the contestants stay.
“The social part is the most important part,” said Lyn Petro. “A lot of these kids are the only blind student at their school, and one of the biggest difficulties of being visually impaired is you are somewhat socially isolated. The beauty of the challenge is bringing these kids together and promoting Braille literacy. It gives the kids something to compete in. This is their Olympics, essentially.”
To qualify for the finals, contestants must advance through regional competitions. Brooke has finished first in her age division in the Kansas regional for three straight years, and in her first time at the international competition, she finished runner-up.
An avid reader — she recently has become a big fan of the Harry Potter series — Brooke enjoys spending time preparing for the Braille Challenge.
“We do a lot of practice work with spelling,” her mother said. “It’s something that drives her the whole year. She wants to get back to that swimming pool.”