By all accounts Neil Maes is your average 13-year-old boy. He likes to read, play games and spend time with his sisters.
He's not just a super speller, he's an inspiration to those who have followed his journey.
The very sense other kids use to decipher spelling od a word, Neil was born without.
"Neil was born profoundly deaf," his mother Christy said. "It was caught on a newborn hearing screening. We acted quickly to get cochlear implants."
Neil hears with artificial hearing. He has two cochlear implants, and has taught himself to hear and speak. Amazingly, he never learned sign language.
"It defies the odds," Christy said.
This is his second trip to the National Spelling stage. His mom says he didn't win his regional spelling bee in South Carolina, but thanks to a new program called RSV Bee, he was able to compete this year.
This year, Neil didn't make the top 50, but it's the journey and inspiration that's worth the most.
"It's so fresh in my mind the day they told me he was profoundly deaf, and watching him on that stage...it's hard to put into words."