Loudoun Spelling Phenom Appears in First Career Finals

Loudoun’s most decorated young speller, Ashrita Gandhari, 14, of Leesburg, appeared in her first ever Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals last night in Orlando, FL.

She was eliminated after spelling “platylepadid,” a species of barnacle, incorrectly

Gandhari was the only four-time speller in the final round’s field of 11 spellers. She competed in the bees in 2017, 2018, and 2019. This year was her first-ever appearance in the final round.

The July 8 competition featured opening remarks from First Lady Jill Biden, who shared that she had been her elementary school’s spelling champion. Overcome with nerves, she told her mother she was sick on the day of the regional competition. Her spelling career ended there.

“I have incredible admiration for each and every one of you. You not only studied and trained to be here—you found the courage to take this chance and compete,” Biden said.

During the competition, Biden sat alongside Gandhari’s family in the audience.

Gandhari earned her bid to the finals after navigating the words “quondam” (former), “cataplexy” (a medical condition in which strong emotion or laughter causes a person to suffer sudden physical collapse) and “asterixis” (a tremor of the hand when the wrist is extended) in the virtual semi-final round.

A force on the local spelling circuit, Gandhari has been spelling competitively since she was five years old. To prepare for the Bee, she drilled for as many as 10 hours a day, reviewing flash cards with her family members and quizzing herself.

What sets her apart from other spellers is her delivery. Most spellers mime writing their assigned words on their hands. Gandhari is a true Gen Z speller, instead typing the word on an imaginary keyboard before attempting to spell it.

Gandhari recently graduated from Stone Hill Middle School. She first garnered national attention appearing the documentary “Breaking the Bee” on Netflix. 

She told Loudoun Now prior to the finals that no matter the outcome, she was proud of herself for making it so far in the competition.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals aired on ESPN2.

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