In 2014, Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe made history when they were declared the first co-champions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 52 years, and only the fifth since the contest began in 1925. On May 28th, 2015, 13-year-old Vanya Shivashankar and 14-year-old Gokul Venkatachalam repeated the feat, after zipping through the final list of 25 difficult words with ease.
The victory was particularly gratifying for the teenagers who have tried to win this intense competition several times. Vanya, whose sister Kavya took home the same trophy in 2009, has competed for the last five years, while Gokul has been attempting it for four. In 2014, he made it to the final three, before losing to dual champions Sriram and Ansun. However, the defeats made the determined eight-graders who knew this was their last chance to participate in the prestigious competition, work even harder. In addition to being crowned National Spelling Bee champions, they also shared a trophy and received $30,000 each.
Though thrilled at having conquered the contest, Vanya is not one to rest on her laurels. The Missouri resident already has her eyes set on trying out for the Science Olympiad competition when she enters 9th grade this fall. And if you think this young girl who hopes to be a cardiac surgeon someday is all about academics, think again. Vanya is also an accomplished musician who recently won the Mid-America Music Association Award for Exceptional Pianist and Jazz Pianist.
Gokul, who dreams of attending Stanford University, is an ardent fan of LeBron James. The fact that the 14-year-old was wearing the # 23 jersey underneath his shirt during the finals did not go unnoticed by Lebron. The Cleveland Cavaliers star player is so impressed with the young fan that he plans to send Gokul free team apparel along with a pair of Nike Lebron XII 's inscribed with a personal message.
And in case you are curious, Vanya's winning word was "scherenschnitte," a German word for the art of cutting paper into decorative designs. Gokul won after he accurately spelled "nunatak," an Inuit word for the exposed, often rocky portion of a mountain or peak not covered with ice or snow. Who knew these words even existed?
Resources: spellingbee.com, npr.org