Every now and then I meet a person I know will leave a lasting mark on my own life.
I’ve been blessed to meet and interact with so many phenomenal hams. Our community is an incredible network of very special people. The hobby itself has entertained me, challenged me, and stretched me in ways I didn’t even know I needed to be stretched. As well as some I did. It’s been an interesting and fun ride. When I met Shelly, KC5MGY, I knew she would be one of those people to leave a mark. I hope it never wears off.
A few weeks ago, she shared her “Ham Story” with the rest of us during the technical topic. I’m going to apologize publicly to Shelly for not posting this one more promptly, but I’ve been working it out in my head because I wanted to do it justice.
Shelly has been a ham for 21 years and, while she got involved in ham radio because of a boyfriend, when the relationship ended she kept her license. She loves net control and has a passion for traffic nets. She's run traffic nets and even a few storm nets in Hays County. On April 4, she took her first swing at net control for the YL NTX Weekly Net and knocked it out of the park. In short, she is the epitome of calm, cool confident YL.
What’s really interesting about Shelly’s story is that Shelly is blind. Not to be confused with Extremely Myopic Allison. Shelly is blind.
So… let’s just think about that for a second.
Sure, ham is an auditory hobby – for the most part. But imagine requiring test questions read to you… Do you remember taking your exam? There were a lot of diagrams, weren’t there? Newsflash! They didn’t substitute questions for her. So, on those, she just went with the old college adage. If you don’t know the answer, just choose “C”. Guess what? It’s not a bad strategy. She passed.
Ten years later, when her license came up for renewal, she renewed that sucker. And ten years after that, she renewed it again. Even after many years without a radio, she still defined herself as ham. Today she has a radio that talks.
Getting to know Shelly has been interesting. She hears at 350-400 wpm. For comparison, most people speak at 125 wpm. If you’re one of the indigenous Texas species, it’s probably more like 60 wpm. But I digress.
The technology part of Shelly’s life would make any RF Nerd proud. Braille writers, braille printers, refresh-able braille displays, screen reading/text to speech software, iPhone voice-over packages. There’s never a quiet moment at Shelly’s. Just like Siri, all the appliances have attitude and they talk back with impunity!
I was lucky enough to help Shelly set up her shack. At the end of it, we decided we should type up a list of all the frequencies in her HT’s memory channels. I called out the frequency while Shelly typed. It was amazing to realize what a sloth I am when it comes to hearing speed. We eventually found a rhythm that worked for both of us (i.e. “she slowed down for me”) and after proofing, I got to watch her snazzy braille printer spit out a list. It made my little artist’s heart go pitter-pat to watch that silly machine go.
I mentioned she was into traffic handling? As soon as she had the list in her hot little hands, the first thing she did was cruise on over to the Dallas Traffic Net and find some old friends. After that, she checked into the Mansfield Johnson Amateur Radio Service Net. I’m proud to say Shelly is now zooming around the airwaves quite freely these days and she’s become a fixture on the YL NTX net.
It occurs to me as I’m typing…in ham radio all are treated equally. No matter what your issue, (and let’s face it -- we all have them) it really doesn’t matter what you look like or what you physically can or cannot do. It’s about communication. We participate in ham because we love to communicate. Okay, okay, sure. Some of us really just like to be nerds, but for the most part…most of us value communication. Ham eliminates the barriers. Shelly’s brain is programmed to learn by sound. Our brains are crippled by sight.