Austin Wierschke defends title as fastest texter in the nation
UPDATE: The reigning 16-year-old champion of cellphone texting has reclaimed the title of fastest texter in America.
Austin Wierschke (sometimes mispelled Weirschke) of Rhinelander won after eight rounds at the texting competition Wednesday in New York’s Times Square. He gets $50,000 in prize money.
Eleven contestants from around the U.S. competed, all using the same type of phone. The competition tested three skills: speed, accuracy and dexterity.
There were three rounds, including texting while blind-folded and texting with hands behind their backs.
The third round is called “text blitz.” Phrases were shown to the contestants for a length of time and they copied them as fast as they could.
The annual competition is sponsored by cellphone-maker LG Electronics.
Below is our original story on Austin that ran in November, 2011.
When it comes to texting, Austin Wierschke is a champ. And that’s not just a figure of speech. This 16-year-old recently won a national contest sponsored by LG Company which garnered him a new high tech phone, a big trophy and $50,000-a pretty good return on a skill that this teen has only been practicing for three years. “It’s really been a whirlwind of an experience,” he said. “I still can’t believe I won this contest.”
Austin is 16 years old, and a junior at Three Lakes High School. He’s been a fervent “texter” since he got his first cell phone in seventh grade. He earned the money to purchase it by working at Cross Country Bar and Grill, which is owned by his parents, Lisa and Erik Wierschke. This beautiful Northwoods establishment is located just a few miles out of Rhinelander, close to Sugar Camp. “It seemed like most of my classmates had a phone, so I wanted one too,” he said. “I earned money to buy it by cooking at Cross Country.”
The skill of texting was unheard of until cell phones became popular. It is a form of typing where only the thumbs are implemented, and users communicate by typing messages instead of actually talking on a phone. Austin was a quick study. “I usually text people about 8,000 times a month,” he said. “I can have four or five conversations going at once.”
He became aware of the LG company texting contest last year when he saw an ad for it on television. “I wanted to see how good I really was compared to other texters, so I decided to enter it,” he said.
He didn’t qualify for the contest in 2010, but was fast enough to win a gift card. And then earlier this year he saw the ad again on Facebook, a social media site. Always up for a challenge, he tried out again. This time he became one of 230 finalists. Then 200 were cut from this group, but Austin held his own. “When they announced that they had 30 finalists, and I was one of them, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was really excited.”
But his excitement really grew when company representatives informed Austin that he was included in the final cut, and they would be expecting him in New York to compete for the championship seat. “I got the call from New York when I was in science class at school,” he said. “However, we have a policy that you can’t use your phones during class, so I couldn’t answer the call, and I just let it go to voicemail. Oh my gosh, I could hardly sit still through the rest of that class. It was really nerve-wracking.”
When he finally did answer the call, LG reps told him he was one of 12 finalists in the contest and had won a paid trip for two to New York City. Austin decided to take his mother as a companion and to cheer him on. “I had never been to New York and always wanted to go,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to study architecture, and that city is filled with big buildings that I wanted to see.”
The contest was held at the famous Altman Building, located in the heart of the city, which allowed Lisa and Austin to see plenty of sights. “We were close to the Empire State building, and even walked in Time Square,” he said.
The event was set up as a series of trials aimed at whittling the 12 finalist down to one. To even the playing field, each contestant was given a new LG Double Play phone one week before the contest. This particular model of phone was so new it had not even been released into the general public for purchase yet. “It’s a different sort of phone from the one I was used to,” said Austin. “It has a double screen, and a different kind of touch pad I was unfamiliar with.”
The contestants were first put through a series of dress rehearsals, which included lots of media hub bub and other distractions. “There was even a hair and make-up person there,” he laughed. “I felt like a movie star!”
The dress rehearsals in themselves were tense. “There were three of these, and I won first in one, third in another one and then eighth in the last one,” he said. “It really made me wonder if I was going to do any good at all for the real contest.”
Contestants were judged not only on their speed of texting, but on accuracy, as well. That doesn’t mean messages are formulated correctly using normal letters and numbers. “They really mixed it up,” Austin said. “Sometimes for an A they would use the “@” sign or throw in a capitalized letter in the middle of a word. You really had to pay attention to things like that.”
During the first elimination round, the contestants were seated with their hands behind their back and then given a phrase to text. They were instructed not to touch their phones until told to. Austin came in first in this round, and six contestants were eliminated. In the next round, the contestants had to observe their text messages from a TV screen. Once again Austin was triumphant, coming in first. The next elimination around required a different phone texting technique called “swiping,” where instead of tapping out letters with a thumb, the user uses a sweeping motion with fingers to distinguish the keys for a message. “That round was really nerve-wracking,” said Austin. “They brought in the St. John’s cheerleaders and played loud music to distract us.”
Now there were three contestants. A 14-year-old girl named Brianna and a 13-year-old named Tyler were all that were left on stage with Austin. This time the contestants were blindfolded. “I’ll never forget that message,” Austin chuckled. “It was ‘Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.’ I thought for sure I wouldn’t be able to pull this one off.”
But he did, becoming the 2011 National Texting Champion of the entire country. “It was really something,” he said. “All this confetti came down and there were cameras going off and lots of media. It was really exciting.”
Austin plans to use his $50,000 winnings for his college education. He’d like to study architecture, and in fact is looking at colleges to apply to in the coming year. However, his competing is not over yet. What this high speed texter is really looking forward to is performing in the international competition, which will be held sometime early in 2012, in, once again, New York City. He has a chance of doubling his winnings at this contest, which will include texters from all over the world.
And this time the entire family is going as Austin’s support team, including not only his mom but his dad and brother Jordan as well. “This is only the third year for the contest,” he said. “In 2009 Korea won and in 2010 Panama won, so I hope in 2011 I can bring the honor and trophy back to the United States. I would be really proud if I could do that for my country.”