Spelling is an individual competition. Its single-elimination, every-man-for-himself style demands discipline, focus, determination, sacrifice, and not only composure, but perfection under pressure. With only one winner and so much at stake with each word, spelling can seem to be a cold and unforgiving activity at times. It certainly can be, but this means you’re doing it all wrong. Through my journey as a speller and as a spelling coach alike, I’ve found immense value in the relationships I have built in the crucible of this demanding competition.
Spelling doesn’t have to be an individual competition. This was my epiphany a month after placing 2nd in the 2015 ACSI national spelling bee, my final competition. My dreams of claiming the title of national champion went unfulfilled, and I was restless; Even though I was ineligible for any more competitions, I wasn’t ready to move on. I felt like my spelling career wasn’t over yet. One day, an idea came to me: what if I mentored an aspiring speller? Being a spelling coach would keep me involved in the community, and would put all the resources I had compiled over my 5 years of competition to good use. I remembered a certain younger speller that I had competed with for the past two years at regionals and nationals that showed potential - Rohan Rajeev, a seventh grader from Edmond, Oklahoma. I began coaching him in June 2015, and embarked on a journey that would change me forever.
Rohan and I called over FaceTime for an hour on average almost every night, and we quickly became close friends as we studied together. We shared with each other our spelling experiences and memories, study methods and spelling strategies. Rohan’s desire to learn and improve incited a desire in me to help in any way I could. Teaching and mentoring him was the most fulfilling thing I have ever done. In 2016, Rohan placed first in all of his local ACSI bees, ascending the ladder to the ACSI national bee for the third year in a row. That May, he claimed the title of ACSI national champion with the winning word “apothem.” My dream of national championship was vicariously fulfilled, and Rohan was ecstatic. While sitting in a coffee shop after the bee, Rohan decided to take on the Scripps bee the next year. My mother discovered several other bees for him to participate in, like the South Asian Spelling Bee and the North South Foundation bee. Rohan’s ACSI victory launched us into new chapter of our spelling journey, and it demanded much more discipline.
Rohan competed at South Asian Spelling Bee nationals in the summer of 2016, where he and I both realized that we would have to step up our studying. We continued to call regularly, delving into books and lists. I compiled lists of words for Rohan and formulated tests to build his vocabulary, a skill that is necessary to advance to the finals in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. His discipline in his studies was steadfast as ever, and his performance in the 2017 bees reflected his dedication. He placed first in all his local Scripps bees, qualifying for the National finals in Washington, D.C.. The week of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, called “Bee Week,” was an extraordinary experience for me and Rohan alike; kids from all across the nation came together in a fellowship unlike any I’ve ever seen. I was connected with other former spellers and spelling coaches, and Rohan found a group of fellow spellers to share his Scripps experience with. After three days of intense competition, Rohan emerged the national runner up. His performance in the national bee was exemplary; he spelled words like durchkomponiert, mollienisia, and cheiropompholyx, and made it look easy. All his hard work had paid off. He praised God over and over for his victory.
I believe that Rohan helped me just as much as I helped him along our spelling journey. We kept each other accountable, we spurred each other on in our studies, and we encouraged each other in our walks with the Lord. In acting as a mentor, I, too, was mentored. The friendship Rohan and I developed saw us through grueling study sessions and searing defeats; we always rose and pushed forward. Rohan’s outstanding placement at the Scripps bee and in subsequent minor league also boosted my notoriety as a coach. Now, I am coaching several other young spellers in hopes of placing high in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The partnership between Rohan and I was a gift from God unlike any other. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” Proverbs 21:17, one of my maxims as a spelling coach, states. People were designed to have relationships and to build each other up. Mentoring and guiding young spellers to grow and succeed is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done, and I intend to pursue creating relationships that foster accountability and edification.