Patsy Izaguirre and Amanda Houston may not have won the Texas School for the Blind's Braille Rallye, but they had already achieved something far more important: friendship
"Shotgun!" I called out, unnecessarily. It was force of habit.
Most of the cars in the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired's recent Braille Rallye were those round little three-cylinder Smart Cars you first started seeing last January, with room for only one passenger – a student at the school who would be translating directions from braille for a volunteer driver.
The car Gordon Franzen was driving also had a braille-reading navigator. But in addition to being blind, Patsy Izaguirre, 20, was deaf, which meant that she had to sign the directions, and that meant we'd need a translator, too, and a bigger car.
Now remember: Signing is a visual language, but Patsy can't see, so instead, she signs by touch. That is, with her right hand, she read the directions – e.g., "Go straight on Burnet, and make a left at the Mazda dealership" – and with her left, she signed these detailed instructions into the right hand of her interpreter, Charity Ridpath. Patsy and Charity needed to be seated side by side, in other words, holding hands. Additionally, Patsy's BFF, Amanda Houston, 18, was joining us. Since Amanda is also deaf and blind, Charity sat between the two girls in the cramped back seat of Gordon's Honda. On the one hand, she "listened" to Patsy, and on the other (I'm speaking literally here), she passed along whatever Patsy said to Amanda.
It was through this delicate hand-holding that the three young women navigated Gordon, a retired high school principal, through the streets of Northwest Austin in a timed road rally, competing against 20 other students at the school. For my part, the only thing I was good for was giving other drivers the finger.
Amanda might have managed that part, too, but that's not the way she rolls. She believes in staying positive. "Go fast!" she immediately told Gordon. And whenever we got lost, she just kept telling us, "We're going to win a big prize!"
"Neither of these girls get discouraged, ever," says Charity, who, as a residential specialist at the school, works constantly with Amanda and Patsy. "They're used to life being a struggle, so they're good at keeping positive, at thinking, 'OK, we're lost – how can we get unlost?' And if they're still lost, they laugh and make a joke of it and still have a great time."
"I get excited about winning," Patsy said afterward, "but I've learned about being a nice winner, because it makes other people feel happy."
No argument here. And no surprise, either, that Amanda and Patsy are members of the school's pep club. Between the two of them, they have enough pep to fuel a large municipality. Aside from the simple exuberance of youth, I think a lot of that enthusiasm comes from the friendship the girls enjoy. As roommates, they can sit talking hand-in-hand for hours on end, gossiping, sharing their feelings, talking about boys – all the usual teenage girl stuff. It's a giddy experience, having a friendship like that. It's the prize Amanda and Patsy had already won.