RANGELY I Sometimes, when a place is familiar enough, she navigates it by feel.
Like the Rangely Recreation Center, where she took swimming lessons from Miss Camilla and Miss Natalie. Or True Value, where Uncle Rodger and Aunt Debbie work. She’s been attending Storytime at the Rangely Library since she was a toddler, greeting Aunt Becky and Miss Amorette with hugs and a grin.
That’s why sometimes, when people who have seen her around town for years learn that 8-year-old Hayden Roswell is blind, they can’t believe it.
“She seems so comfortable getting around,” they say, shaking their heads. “You’d never know she can’t see.”
You’d never know she could do lots of things, and then the granddaughter of Rangely residents Terry and Christy Lancaster does them. She rides a scooter and a bike. She reads Harry Potter, unabridged. She introduces herself to strangers and makes them her friends.
Lately, she’s outscored all competitors in Colorado’s Braille Challenge—in her division, she is ranked seventh in the United States and Canada—and is headed to the National Braille Challenge in Los Angeles, Calif., later this month.
Roswell, who attends Pear Park Elementary School in Grand Junction, feels the support of the communities she has known since birth.
“The whole thing is exciting,” she said. “I love that I’m able to go and that people started making donations to help me with it.”
A successful GoFundMe campaign, private donations, many of them from Rangely, school fundraisers and sales of mom Laurel Kellogg’s top-notch baked goods have made the trip possible.
Along with sister Gracie, Kellogg and another friend, Roswell, will travel to Los Angeles for the June 18 event. Completing the group is Angela Sims, a visual impairment teacher who has worked with Roswell for more than five years.
“For students willing to participate, the Challenge really shows them how their hard work benefits them,” Sims said. “It’s one of those things that allows them to shine and see the result of the hard work they’ve put in.”
Even more important, Sims said, is the message kids get from people who know and love them the most, whether it’s caretakers, relatives or friends.
“Anytime you have a community of support, that’s a key factor in success,” Sims said. “It doesn’t matter what teachers tell them at school. If their support system, whether it’s grandparents, parents or siblings, doesn’t communicate the same thing – that they can do things – the kids won’t do it.
Hayden’s family has treated her the same as any other kid since the day she was born, so that support system has played a huge role in where she is right now.”
Christy Lancaster recalls times when that equality meant moments of panic for her, like when Gracie encouraged Hayden to jump off the recreation center diving board at 4 years old.
“She about gave Grannie a heart attack,” Lancaster said, laughing. “But I think that’s why she’s so very independen—because they have always just treated her independently.”
For Roswell, who was born blind, being comfortable with her abilities is accompanied by some amazement at how far she’s come. She was shocked to learn she had scored highest in the state challenge’s reading, spelling and comprehension tests.
Not all children who placed first in the Apprentice Division in their states were invited to the National Braille Challenge, Sims said. Roswell’s high score across both the U.S. and Canada prompted her invitation.
Kellogg said Hayden’s assumption that she can do anything other kids can—in this case, more—factors into successes like this one.
“Hayden is amazing,” Kellogg said. “She doesn’t let anything hold her back.”
Sims believes that when people closest to them convey the same attitude, kids benefit from it, regardless of their abilities.
“If they have a really strong support system, if people believe and give them a chance, kids can do amazing things,” Sims said. “With Hayden, when people get to know her and talk to her, they know she can do anything she puts her mind to.”