Nikitha Chandran's favorite word is triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number 13. • "Even though I love the number 13," she said. • She likes the word because "it's just cool," and, believe it or not, she can spell triskaidekaphobia with ease. • Nikitha, 13, of Valrico competed recently in the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland. She competed in the finals and finished 11th out of 281 spellers. She missed the word pathognomonic.
This was the second year the Brandon Academy eighth-grader made it to the national competition. She first competed in a spelling bee at school in fourth grade. She didn't do very well, she said, and resolved to study more and give it a real try the next year.
"I found out I had a knack for spelling, and then I just wanted to pursue it because I liked it," Nikitha said. "I liked winning spelling bees."
At last year's national competition, she finished just below the cutoff for the semifinals.
"It was huge. It was unlike any spelling bee I'd been to," she said. "I just wanted to have fun that year and soak it all in."
The semifinals and the final round happen in the same day. Her big goal this year was making it to the semifinals, but she made it to the final round, which was broadcast by ESPN.
Making it to the finals was amazing, she said. "I couldn't think about anything else, I was excited the whole time."
The competition was fierce but friendly. Everybody there takes it seriously, she said, but no one glares at each other.
"There were a bunch of boys that were in the finals that are really close friends," she said. "It's amazing to see these friendships."
Nikitha tried to study every day, using dictionary word lists her father got for her. Her mother would quiz her and help her fix her mistakes.
It takes more than a good memory to win a spelling bee. Nikitha studied the definitions of words, their roots, the language of origin, anything that would help her connect a word to its spelling.
"You can't memorize the dictionary," she said. "It's hard to memorize words just by their sounds."
Eighth grade is the cutoff for the competition, so she won't be competing next year. She'll be a freshman in the Strawberry Crest IB program. She has been involved in drama and loves performing, singing and dancing. She wants to get back into playing the piano.
Nikitha's family was proud of how well she did at the competition this year, said her mother, Dr. Sumita Chandran, 39, an internist who practices in Plant City. The family includes young twins.
It wasn't just about the competition or their daughter's success, she said.
"We are busy with work, busy with the twins all the time," Sumita Chandran said. "The whole week, it was just family time. It was good family time, and being a top finalist, that's awesome."
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2453.