Vanya Shivashankar has clutched spelling bee trophies in her arms for years, but she says she will never get used to winning one.
The 11-year-old’s eyes glowed with excitement and amazement Thursday morning after she spelled “maladroit” and was announced as the winner of the Olathe Spelling Bee at Frontier Trail Middle School.
It was the third time she has won the regional competition and her fourth time participating. The win qualifies her to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.
“I’m so ecstatic right now. I’m so happy,” said Vanya, a sixth-grader at California Trail Middle School. “The words were a lot harder this year and everyone did such a great job. I still can’t believe it.”
The accomplishment puts her one step closer to echoing her big sister’s success.
Kavya Shivashankar, now 16, won the Olathe District Spelling Bee four times and earned the first-place trophy at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2009.
Kavya, now a senior at Olathe North, said it still feels weird to be sitting in the audience at a spelling bee rather than standing on stage spelling.
“I’m very proud of my sister and every time she gets on stage to spell a word, I get super nervous,” Kavya said. “Her enthusiasm and passion for participating in these spelling bees makes me happy. You need passion for anything you do in life because that’s where motivation comes from.”
Their parents are thrilled, as well.
Mirle Shivashankar said that even though he’s watched his daughters participate in spelling bees plenty of times, he still can’t calm his nerves while watching them spell on stage.
And he can tell the competition is getting tougher each year.
“A lot more kids are studying very hard and doing a great job,” he said. “And as a parent, I’m really glad to see that happen, because that is the whole purpose of these spelling bees. It’s nice to see more interest.”
His observance was echoed by the Olathe District Spelling Bee judges.
“I think the kids are becoming more prepared and studying harder,” said Linda Voyles, one of the judges. “We’ve definitely had more final rounds this year than ever before. It’s exciting to see the talent in the district.”
Voyles, who is the principal at Indian Creek Elementary School, loves to see students who are passionate about spelling bees and who study words because they enjoy it.
She’s excited to see how far Vanya gets in the national competition and looks forward to watching her compete when the spelling bee is broadcast on ESPN this spring.
“The national spelling bee is a huge deal,” Voyles said. “And the words they use, to me, are absolutely insane. It’s a huge accomplishment.”
In addition to her trip to Washington, Vanya also wins a copy of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award and a subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
While she would love to win the national competition, Vanya said her main goal for the national spelling bee is to at least make it to the finals round. Last year, her journey ended at the semi-finals.
Until then, she’s going to continue reviewing words every day after school.
“Thinking about the national spelling bee puts butterflies in my stomach, but it’s a great feeling,” Vanya said. “I’m going to study as much as I can. There are still so many words I don’t know exist yet.”