As a teenager in the 1980s, I made it to the finals of a well-regarded piano competition. Giddy with excitement, I traveled with my mother from our home in Savannah, Ga., to Mercer University in Macon, Ga.

I was to play Mozart's Sonata No. 1 in C.

As the contest neared, my mother found a seat in the auditorium. Too enthused to sit, I bounded off to the restroom. There I encountered a pretty girl, about my age, brushing what looked to me like yards of silken blond hair. "I'm Ingrid," I said eagerly. I told her why I was there and asked her name. She smiled, then appraised me coolly.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. "Black people can't play classical music."

Stunned, I returned to my mother and announced that I didn't want to compete. As if she knew what had happened, she stood up and looked me dead in the eye. "Don't let anyone deter you from your dreams," she said quietly.

When my name was called, I sat down at the piano, struggling to remember my music. Then my hands just took over. The applause that followed overwhelmed me.

Later, a judge took the stage to announce the winners. "And first place goes to . . ." I couldn't believe my ears. I had won!

I think of this moment every time I feel underestimated. Now, I'm a 38-year-old ham and lots of fun at parties if there's a piano around.

Ingrid Marshall Padgett, Fort Washington

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