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Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press
Neil Maes, 11, of Belton, S.C., has a pillow with messages of support written on it during interviews at The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) in Washington, Tuesday, May 24, 2016. Maes,was born deaf and now hears with the helps of cochlear implants. The boy will participate in his first National Spelling Bee on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON — Making it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee is an amazing achievement for any 11-year-old. But Neil Maes of Belton, South Carolina has had a more difficult journey than most of his peers.

Neil was born deaf and has cochlear implants in both ears. He had to train his brain to understand spoken words through countless hours of speech therapy. Now he's officially one of the top young spellers in the nation. He'll take the stage with 281 others in Wednesday's preliminary rounds.

The only assistance Neil requires is that the bee's pronouncer will speak into a microphone that transmits an FM signal directly into his cochlear implants. That allows him to filter out background noise and focus on the word.