PASCO -- It might distract you when you're driving. And teachers don't want you to do it in class.
But Pasco High School senior Michael Zhang recently won $10,000 for being the fastest texter in the nation in a competition sponsored by U.S. Cellular.
"It finally hit me. I won $10,000," Zhang said after finding out recently he had texted faster than about 11,500 others who took part in the competition.
"I've never won a contest," the 17-year-old said in a phone interview Monday afternoon from the East Coast, where he is interviewing at various colleges.
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Zhang out-texted people throughout the country, including from Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City, U.S. Cellular spokesman Brian Ayers said. All had participated in the traveling competition from late spring through Dec. 31.
Zhang said that last summer his mom, Junqin Xing, read a story about the competition coming to the Tri-Cities.
"She knew I'm pretty fast as a texter, so she said, 'You should try it for fun,' " Zhang recalled.
Days later, he went to a local U.S. Cellular store where a machine gave him a phrase to text.
If he was able to text that phrase on his phone accurately and within a specified time, he progressed through seven more phrases. Each phrase had to be sent accurately and within a shorter time.
Zhang excelled right away, his score rocketing him to the third-place position in the nation. A U.S. Cellular website showed the scores of the top 25.
He competed again that weekend, edging up to second place. In mid-August, his mom suggested Zhang compete in Ellensburg. He did, and was the first-place champion, "for only three days," until a girl in Iowa topped his score, he said.
But the tables turned again when Zhang's father and Columbia Basin College math instructor Limin Zhang drove him to a Hermiston competition Dec. 9.
Michael Zhang retook the national lead. That score would keep him in the top slot.
"I was pretty shocked," said Zhang, who holds a 3.99 grade-point average. "I didn't think I was that good."
He attributes his success partly to the fact he has been playing piano for 11 years. "My fingers have the ability to get used to a position and do it over and over again."
"I'm a really competitive person," he added. "I was pretty set on winning."
As for the money he won, he said he likely will put most of it toward his college costs. He has applied to several schools with the goal of one day becoming a doctor.
In the meantime, earning the title of the nation's fastest texter has added a unique qualification to his resume, as well as to his college interviews.
Zhang recalled being in a recent interview with several other college candidates. They all had to say their name, where they're from and an interesting fact about themselves.
He shared that he is considered the fastest texter in the country.
"I'm pretty sure my interesting fact was the best one," Zhang said with a laugh.
* Kathy Korengel: 509-582-1541; email@example.com