Meet Spelling Bee Competition 2019 Winner Shruthika Padhy

When judges run out of 'words' to say in a spelling competition, it points to the calibre of the champions. Let's hear from Shruthika Padhy, one of the 8 winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee!

By Maathangi Iyer

Meet Spelling Bee Competition 2019 Winner Shruthika Padhy
The Padhy family is all smiles after Shruthika's tremendous victory

According to Britannica, the Merriam Webster Dictionary contains the spellings and definitions of around 700,000 words. Now, imagine someone knowing all of this, every page, every word mentioned, by heart. 

This is exactly what happened at the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition held in Maryland, USA. Not just one but eight winners displayed their skill at spelling, leaving both the judges and audience in a ‘spell’.

For these eight champions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition, who have devoted countless hours to study those countless words, their efforts truly paid off on this incredible platform. 

ParentCircle had the amazing opportunity to have an interesting conversation with one of the Octochamps, 13-year-old Shruthika. We also spoke with her proud parents Umashankar Padhy and Sujata Sabat, and her brother, Prachet Padhy. 

Shruthika’s winning word was Aiguillette and, interestingly, when she was asked to frame a sentence using her favourite word, there is no guessing which word she used. The sentence she framed was as follows:

"The soldier was wearing aiguillette with a knaidel in his capacious pocket."

So, go on, get ready to be ‘spell’ bound!

Also read: Easy tips for your child to master spelling

To Shruthika:

1. You are one of the eight winners of the 92nd Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. And, all this at the age of 13. How does it feel?

I have only one word to describe this feeling. Amazing!

2. Share with us your journey till this grand stage? When did you realise you had a talent for spellings?

It all began when my parents took me to a spelling competition when I was in preschool. I loved the whole experience! When I was five years old, I wanted to participate in one. And from then on, my love and passion for it has only increased.

3. How did you prepare for Spelling Bee? Is there any strategy that you followed? Did you go to any coaching class?

The Spelling Bee provides the Merriam Webster unabridged dictionary as the official source of all words. The only strategy I had was study, study and study. And practice, practice and practice. I used resources such as Quizlet, and looked at roots and etymological patterns — things I figure out looking at more and more words. I studied for almost five hours on weekdays, and it used to stretch up to even 24 hours on a weekend. As the competition neared I made a lot of sacrifices, which included stopping my field hockey and music classes.

4. During the break following each round of the competition, what were your thoughts?

My constant thoughts were to remain calm and focussed. I was nervous. But then when I was on the stage, I was very focussed on the words.

5. The word that you won with was ‘aiguillette’? Was that the most difficult word of the contest or were there others?

Not really! I knew all the words. The moment I heard it I knew everything right from the origin, to its meaning. I did not have any doubts.

6. Some winning words from previous editions include EUONYM, CHIAROSCURIST, POCOCURANTE, URSPRACHE and KNAIDEL. Do you have any favourite word?

Yes! My winning word Aiguillette.

Meet Spelling Bee Competition 2019 Winner Shruthika Padhy
A delighted Shruthika Padhy holding up her trophy at the prestigious spelling bee contest

7. Apart from spellings, is there any other activity you love doing? What are your hobbies?

I love reading. I love to play field hockey and I am also into classical music, I play the harmonium and flute as well.

Also read: 6 tips to improve your child's vocabulary

8. Tell us about the ways your parents have supported you throughout this journey?

My parents have supported me a lot. They convinced my school to enroll in the Scripps National Spelling Bee as the school had never participated earlier and that paved the way. They also helped me by making word lists and quizzing me.

9. Your future plans?

I want to be a doctor when I grow up!

10. Is there any advice that you would like to give to aspiring Scripps contestants?

Study hard. And practise a lot. Reading in depth through the dictionary helps provide a foundation. Practising helps you recollect words at the right moment. You need to understand the roots, the etymological patterns and that can only come with lots and lots of practice.

To her parents:

Meet Spelling Bee Competition 2019 Winner Shruthika Padhy
Shruthika with her parents and her brother

1. What was your first reaction when you came to know she was one of the winners?

It was so surreal. A dream come true! Our little girl finally made it. After all the years of unrelentless hard work, this was a sweet victory not only for her but for us as well.

2. When did you first notice that your daughter was good with spellings? What did you do about it? Take us through the journey.

When she was in preschool, our friend suggested that we attend a Spelling Bee competition. Shrutika was not eligible at that time but discovered that she liked it.

She started reading early and when she was 5, she decided she would participate. It became a ritual every year. We used to plan vacations based on the spelling bee schedules, to coincide the dates.

3. How did you encourage your daughter’s interest in spelling? Did she always enjoy it or did you have to get her interested?

She deserves all the credit and praise. She showed interest and we just gave her the support she needed. Participating in a spelling bee competition demands a lot of time and sacrifices. It needs exhaustive preparation. It would have been very difficult for us to push, if she did not have the drive within her to participate.

We were in Arizona and then we moved to New Jersey. At that time she was in grade 4. Her school conducted the spelling competition at school level that year. The following year, the school enrolled for the Scripps National Spelling bee. Shruthika became the school champion that year and went on to compete at national level at Scripps.

4. What has been your parenting approach in terms of academics from the time she was a little girl?

To begin, she has her priorities in place. And that helped her manage her time. She used to finish her homework in school so that she could prepare for the spelling bee which requires intense preparations for almost a year. She used to manage her time well between field hockey, music classes and school, all the while staying focused on the competition.

5. How did you help your daughter prepare for the competition?

We tried our level best to ensure the school registered for the competition. It was a long process. However, we were so sure that she has it in her to shine in the competition, and we pursued it until the school did it. Apart from that, we gave her all the support in terms of helping her connect with previous winners to understand what works and what does not.

6. Nine hours of continuously being challenged is stressful. How did she prepare herself to handle the stress and increase her mental stamina?

Umashankar Padhy (Father): Before the competition, I would constantly tell her to stay calm and focussed, and thatshe got this. All contestants come well-prepared. But the difference between the winner and the rest is that the winner maintains composure and that helps one to think straight.

Shruthika was placed 10th last year (2018) and 7th the previous year (2017). She has always been the lead scorer going into the finals. In fact, last year social media predicted her to win. Unfortunately, she was sick at that time and was not her best self during the competition.

During this year’s competition, her mother in between breaks during the morning rounds, met her for a few minutes to give her water and some moral boost. The evening round did not have as much breaks and she was on her own. But then by that time, shrutika only had gotten more confident. 

7. From all the words that she spelled correctly in the competition, which one did you think was the most difficult?

I think all of the words were difficult. There is a scientific approach behind arriving at the right answer. And once you understand the tactic just like Shrutika did, it all seems easy. In fact, she knows all the words. Whatever competition she has participated, she is almost sure of every word that is asked. This time around, she was 100 per cent sure of all the words. So, it is just a matter of knowing how to decode it. And that, only comes with hours and hours of practice.

8. What was going on in your mind when your daughter was in the final rounds?

I only wanted her to remain calm. She was well prepared. There was nothing that could go wrong.

9. Any advice to parents on how to prepare their children for Spelling Bee?

Prepare hard. Give all the support to your child. There are no shortcuts and a lot of hard work and effort goes into acing the competition. It’s a long innings you and your child are signing up for.

10. What three words would you use to describe Shruthika?

Hardworking, Disciplined, Energetic!

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