BRAILLE CHALLENGE MEMORY BOOK

To the family and friends of Harley Fetterman:

One of the things Harley always enjoyed was the Braille Challenge, where he was announced as a finalist nine times. He was always a fierce competitor, but also a good friend. He touched the lives of so many people both inside and outside the Braille Challenge. The number of touching tributes dedicated to him online shows just a sample of perspectives and memories of Harley... And here's another sample.

All of the tributes in this memory "book" have one thing in common, and that is that every author knows Harley from the Braille Challenge. Some people have shared memories from other occasions, but all of us got to know and love Harley at least in part through the Braille Challenge. The Charts and Graphs award in his name is truly moving, and serves as a tangible reminder of who he is and what he stands for. His intangible legacy extends far beyond the Braille Challenge and Braille Institute, and we want to share with you a few of the things that makes Harley special to us. Entries are in alphabetical order by last name.

Cricket Bidleman

Dear Harley,

I have written so much online and to friends that at this point, I'm almost out of words. And that's coming from the person who told you over and over that I would never run out of things to say. Hopefully I will be able to do this justice.
When I went to my first Braille Challenge in 2006, I was exhausted... For maybe all of ten minutes. It had taken me and the family a grand total of nine hours to get from San Diego to Los Angeles, and there's just something about long car trips that's kind of draining. When I got into the lobby and heard all of the excited voices though, the exhaustion was a thing of the past. I met Chris Nusbaum in the elevator, and after our parents introduced us, the first thing I said to him was not "Hi, I'm Cricket Bidleman", but rather "Just so you know, I'm going to beat you." As I recall, you and I had a very similar first encounter... So we started out as competitors.
A few years later, you and I were sitting at a table with Logan Anderson, waiting for everyone else to finish a test. Naturally, since we were all such mischief-makers, we whispered jokes around the table. For some reason, the proctors didn't tell us to be quiet. And that's how it went for the first few years. Sometimes we would be put at the same table, and sometimes we were across the room from each other. I only knew you from the Braille Challenge at first, and I didn't really know anything other than that you always did your best.
I remember very clearly the first time I heard about the things you went through. I was maybe eight or nine, and I heard my parents talking to each other in that tone of voice that just oozes something that's not good. I didn't understand much of what they were saying at the time. My kid self asked, "Mom, is Harley in trouble?" And my parents tried to explain what a brain tumor is. Our dog had just had one the size of a golf ball in his nose, so I kind of understood what that meant, but didn't really comprehend the full scope of it. I was just astonished that you kept approaching everything with such vigor and determination.
There were a couple of years where I didn't make it into the Braille Challenge. Dad tried to do the whole pep talk thing, but that did not work out too well. When I finally figured out my issues and made it to the finals in 2013, he took one look at the list of finalists and said, "You know, Harley made it." That's when I started practicing. After that, I found my stride. When we stood up on stage with Lauren Thomson, we had another " I'm going to beat you next time" sort of conversation, and then we parted ways.
The "next time" in question turned out to be 2015. I won't even pretend that I didn't have to practice because I did. For six weeks. I wrote a practice schedule and stuck to it, and that's how I made it to finals in the first place. Meanwhile, as you told me later, you were just relaxing in Austin, not really practicing all that much except for when the mood struck you. The proctors made the mistake of putting us right next to each other again, but instead of cracking jokes, we stole each other's Braillers. After throwing some paper at you for revenge, I got back to work. We later found out that only a few points separated our scores, which I didn't mind... Until you said that you didn't practice much at all. I guess it just goes to show that preparing for something can only go so far.
Just before I left for NFB EQ, we started texting, and continued through school. I kept telling you that school was first priority, but apparently we both thought otherwise. There was one particular moment in precalculus where we were studying the unit circle. I had read all of the notes and other material the night before, so I just skimmed them and kept texting. The teacher asked me what the answer to something was... Something I hadn't been paying the slightest attention to. So I said the answer was pi, and somehow that was correct. Despite all the texting though, we never did that during a test... So I guess morals weren't completely out the window.
And then there was the Leadership Academy last October in Baltimore. My flight was delayed, a lot, and I didn't get there until just before one in the morning. It wasn't exactly coincidence that you came wandering down the hall of the Jernigan Institute "looking for a bottle of water" when I got there, though Natalie Shaheen's reaction was pretty hilarious. If I remember correctly, she didn't believe you for some reason. Maybe it was because you didn't end up getting a water bottle before saying hello and going back to bed. During that trip, we all walked to dinner in the rain. You had been smart to pack an umbrella in your bag, but unfortunately that bag was left in your room, so you were not excluded from being soaked along with the rest of us. And then when we got back, you brought out your guitar and figured out "Landslide" in exactly three minutes. That was really impressive, and I don't say that often.
The rest is all kind of a blur of schoolwork, long conversations, and a lot of laughter. You were always in a good mood, ready to conquer any obstacle thrown your way, and that is something that tons of people admire. Everything that people wrote online is a testament to how many of us all care about you. I read comments from people who had never met you, who said that they felt like they got to know and love you from everything that people wrote. So you may have met and touched the lives of a lot of people, but your influence spreads far beyond that. That is a legacy that even the best of people can only hope to achieve.
I am so privileged to have been able to get to know you. Your passion for technology has inspired me to learn some of the basic computer science principles such as HTML, which is how I put this document together. Your determination inspires me to become the best that I can be at everything I do. You have made me a much better person, and for that I will be eternally grateful. I have made lifelong connections with people I would never have met if not for you. I will always love and remember you, and I know your legacy will live on for a long time to come.
The world has lost some of its beauty because you are no longer in it, but now I know that you are no longer in pain. I do not know what happens after life on Earth ends, but I'm sure it is another great adventure, and I know that you are leaping into it with your usual courage and drive. I also know that you will have just as much of an impact wherever you are as you have had here, if not more. I guess this is goodbye, at least for now.

With much love,
Cricket Bidleman

Kelly Cusack

I didn't know Harley nearly as well as I would have liked to, but I have a very special memory of him that makes me wish that I did.  It happened when I was in fifth grade, attending the NFB Project Innovation program.
I had asked Harley for help with my experiment, which involved using a computer.  Being the kind person that he is, he instantly said yes.  The problem was that neither one of us really knew where the computer lab was.  And so, we began to wander the NFB Jernigan Institute, opening every unlocked door and praying that we wouldn't get into trouble.
We did this for about fifteen minutes, until at last, we managed to locate the correct door.  Relieved, we ran into the computer lab, and Harley began helping me with my study, which involved playing Armadillo Army and taking Mad Minute Multiplication tests before and after the game.  But naturally, both Harley and I got extremely sidetracked.  I mean, who can resist Armadillo Army? So we ended up just fooling around, not getting much done, and causing a bit of pandemonium.
Anyway, after we had finished our extremely productive "work", we decided to leave the computer lab and head back to the main room. Of course, we got lost again.  Luckily, we found something entertaining this time-a blind driver golf cart!  Fortunately, our better judgment prevented us from attempting to drive it, but we had so much fun exploring it that we almost forgot about our unfinished projects.
Whenever I think back on Project Innovation, my first NFB program, the fun times that I had with Harley-confusedly wandering the halls, repeatedly asking each other whether we were sure where we were going, screaming and laughing as we played Armadillo Army, giving each other gaming tips, and feeling almost every inch of that blind driver golf cart-are some of the first things that come to mind.  Harley introduced me to the true philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Without even trying, he taught me that there are other blind people out there, with whom I can share stories, build friendships, and brainstorm ways to overcome the obstacles in our paths.  For this, I will never forget Harley Fetterman.

Merlyn Hileman

Harley was one of the funniest, smartest, and coolest people I've ever known. He was always ready with a smile to brighten someone's day, and he was happy to help anyone who needed it. He had such a positive attitude about everything, and he handled all of life's challenges with humor and optimism.
My favorite Harley memories centered around the Braille Challenge. Every year before the Central Texas regional, Harley and I were each so convinced that we were going to win. This led to smack talk that could get pretty ridiculous, including (non-serious) threats to pour various sticky liquids into the other's Brailler, thereby destroying it for the competition. But we were always happy for each other when the finalists were announced, and we always looked forward to competing together. The Braille Challenge wouldn't have been the same without Harley.
Harley inspired everyone who knew him with his positivity, intelligence and compassion. I am so grateful that I was able to be one of them.

Maura Loberg

Hello, my name is Maura Loberg, and I met Harley in Baltimore, Maryland for the NFB STEM2U leadership training program. Although I've known him for only a year or so, I've followed his accomplishments ever since we both made it to National Braille Challenge in 2011.
Whenever I think of Harley, the first thing I think of is a comedy show. Harley's humor was contagious, and during the STEM weekend, he had an uncanny way of making me smile at the simplest things. I remember hanging out with him and a few other friends in the harbor room at the Jernigan Institute, and looking at the list of songs on his Braille Sense. We were all looking up crazy stuff on YouTube, and he was playing a game at full volume. After a while, he whipped out his guitar and entertained us with his musical talent.
The next day, I remember watching his intellectual sparks fly while working on experiments, and listening to him banter with Cricket about how he would beat her at nationals next year. I have always admired Harley's braille skills, and was excited for him when I saw that he had received runner-up at the 2015 National Braille Challenge. I enjoyed the messages he sent in our group chat which was composed during the weekend, and he always had a witty comeback to everything.
When I learned that he had been battling cancer for the past thirteen years, he became all the more inspiring to me. Even when everything looked rough for him, he stayed positive until the very end. We all mourn his loss on Earth, but I know that he is watching over us and smiling somewhere up in Heaven.
In his eighteen years, he paved a path of love, compassion, and kindness. He shined a light of his own, and spread it upon every life he touched. I know that you, as his parents, have heard this multiple times, but I'm so very sorry for your loss. Everyone who has contributed in creating this book is here for your family as you go through the grieving process, and we are sending love and prayers down to Texas.
I know in my heart that as long as we carry on his legacy, Harley will always live on. Harley, I hope you're having fun up there, and I'm sure you're telling jokes and causing all kinds of fun mischief. Best of all, I know that you can see clearly, and you're no longer in pain. Rest in peace, my friend. Your soul will never be forgotten, and we will do our best to carry your legacy forward.

Su Park

I remember meeting Harley in Texas for the first time and being shocked-beyond belief-that we could ever have met each other before then. Yet we had in the summer of 2010 at the Braille Challenge. There was even confirmation, in the way of pictures to prove it.
I cannot remember all of the many events Harley and I participated in together. But I do remember some highlighted details:

Every time we would meet up for the Braille Challenge, the usual, several-week prior verbal skirmishes that took place would come to a head in the form of a usually random fencing match between myself, Harley, and Merlyn. Generally, it was done in the middle of the hallway, and with almost no warning; as I recall, someone would just go after someone else with their cane, and it was on. Of course, Harley was clever enough to throw obstacles in our paths while, at the same time, hiding long enough to get us to give up chasing him before actually coming after us himself. And of course, he almost always beat us. It was always good fun between friends.

Perhaps our friendship and our rivalry truly started when I first participated in the Texas Regional Braille Challenge and came close to taking first place. It certainly never happened again, that was for sure!

This last Braille Challenge in particular demonstrated Harley's incredible skill. I distinctly remember Merlyn and I joking with each other that we'd both have a chance at getting first place in the regionals. Harley had, after all, told us he'd not had a chance to practice because he was sick. It seemed a golden opportunity, but a bittersweet one. I remember thinking that even if I had gotten the medal, I wouldn't have wanted it; somehow, it seemed to belong to Harley.

I need not have worried. He got the medal, as he always did. The shock factor, though, was no less sweeping, and certainly no less of a joy to everyone. Even as I sent plenty of quips to Harley saying that, surely, he must have cheated, I was secretly glad he got the award. It showed, more than anything, his skill with Braille and the incredible tenacity that has kept him going for so long and has been such an inspiration to me.
Harley's skill in music also impressed me. I'm sorry to have not heard him play more on his guitar...
Looking back now, I realize that regardless of where we were or what we were doing, it was not the event that mattered; it was Harley's presence there. Whether we were discussing an issue with school or just talking about technology, Harley was an integral part of it all. Even in those last days, he never ceased to give up hope and never stopped thinking of others before himself. It is a rare trait in this world, and sadly one few people possess. Though he may be gone from this world, his legacy-his heart-will never leave.

Precious Perez

H: H is for the happiness that you created.
A: A is for the admirable zeal for life you possessed, and for the angel that you are and will always be.
R: R is for the revival of hope, strength, and love you always believed in, all of the tools you used to fight the battle with everything you had.
L: L is for the laughs we shared together, all the jokes we made during STEM2U, and the joy you always brought to everyone.
E: E is for the pure excitement you had for braille itself and every Braille Challenge you competed in, which wouldn't have been the same and will never be the same without you and your passion.
Y: Y is for every yesterday you blessed us all with your presence. You have changed my life, and so many others. Y is for the undeniable fact that _you will always be in my memory as long as I live.

Hannah Saunt

Hi Harley,

I will never forget my last Braille challenge as a competitor. There are a lot of reasons why, but I'm sure you don't want to hear them all. One reason why I will never forget that day is you. You were so full of energy despite the fact that we all had to be up early. You were ready to win, and nothing was going to get in your way, except maybe Cricket. I could tell you two were flirting during your friendly fight with stacks of Braille paper. When you placed second at the banquet that night, I was very happy for you. You deserved that spot!
As we all went our separate ways, we started talking in the national Braille challenge group chat. It was very interesting. You were still the fun-loving, free-spirited guy I remembered from the challenge. As time passed, our conversations got weird and less frequent as we started school. As life got busier for me, I stopped paying attention to what was going on in the chat and how everyone was doing, but then I found out what you were going through.
I heard you were in the hospital, not feeling well. I started praying, thinking everything was okay. As time passed, you ended up feeling and getting worse. You stopped talking to us in the group chat, and I started worrying; wondering what was wrong.
As the days passed, I started keeping up with your mom's updates and sharing them, hoping I could get people to pray with me. When I read that you needed stem cells, I was willing to fly to Texas and go through the process to try and help you. Even though I didn't have the money to go, I regret not making more of an effort. As you got worse, I couldn't help but start thinking about the future-your future. Would you live a long life, or would you leave us soon? How much time would it take before you would rejoin the chat and make us laugh again? The thoughts were endless.
On July 29, 2016, your mom posted an update. The doctors said they didn't think there was anything else they could do. You consoled them, telling them they did everything they could. My heart broke as I read that. Two days later, after everyone you knew started sending prayers and asking their friends to do the same, you left earth to be with god. The fun conversations in the chat stopped. It was as if everything fun left us, but we held each other up and supported each other the best we could, because we all knew you would do the same for us.
I wish I could say I'm not hurting anymore, but if I did, I'd be lying to myself and to everyone else. You taught me that picking on people is okay in moderation, and if both people know it's only teasing. You showed me how fun it is trying to hit someone with paper. But most importantly, you taught me that life is too short, and I need to live my life to the fullest. I know you're watching over me now, but it's still so hard to believe you're gone. I keep watching my news feed and the group chat, hoping you'll pop in and say that you were playing some cruel joke, but I know that's not the case. I wish I could have given you stem cells, and I wish I could be at your services. I promise I will make sure your mom and dad have someone to talk to through this rough time. I promise to carry your legacy with me. I promise to live my life to the best of my ability, and to make sure all of our Braille challenge friends do the same. You are an inspiration, Harley. You are, and always will be. I love and miss you, and I can't wait to see you again in heaven, where I can't wait to show off my mad paper stack fighting skills. You are in no more pain. Spread those angel wings and fly.

Love,
Hannah

Alyssa Townsend

Dear Harley,

It still hasn't hit me that you're actually in Heaven. I will forever admire your optimism and I could only hope to be half the fighter you are. The first time I had the privilege of meeting you, I was not even aware of the struggles you were enduring. Your positive attitude and constant humor would never lead me to guess what you were going through.
I will always fondly remember your kindness and competitive nature at the National Braille Challenge. I will never forget the time when my Victor Reader Stream decided to not function during the Speed and Accuracy test and I was forced to use a Bookport instead. You selflessly gave up the ten-minute practice period to patiently show me the basics of this foreign machine. In no time, I was comfortably using the Bookport and your willingness to assist me ultimately calmed my anxiety about leaving my comfort zone of the machine I knew like the back of my hand.
Your perseverance has led me to never stop striving for my dreams. Your sense of humor has taught me to always keep a positive outlook on life and smile through the pain. Your unfortunate passing has taught me to not take any of my life for granted because you never know when it could be taken away from you. You have stamped a permanent mark on my life, Harley, and I'm so glad I signed up for the Braille Challenge in third grade because I had the opportunity to know you.

Always with love,
Alyssa

In Closing...

Now you have had a chance to take a journey through some of our favorite memories of Harley Fetterman. Honestly, this does not begin to scratch the surface. Harley was an intelligent, humorous, sarcastic, charismatic, witty, compassionate person, and everyone who got to know him is truly blessed to have had that opportunity. We all love and are constantly inspired by Harley's courage, determination, and perseverance. We know that wherever he is now, he is no longer in pain.

We all wish we could be there to celebrate Harley's life but unfortunately, most of us cannot. We know the grieving process is difficult, and every one of us will always be here to support you. Thank you for taking this journey with us, and for helping us remember and celebrate Harley Fetterman.

All the best,
* Cricket Bidleman * Kelly Cusack * Merlyn Hileman * Maura Loberg * Su Park * Precious Perez * Hannah Saunt * Alyssa Townsend