Vikram Raju’s favorite word — Houyhnhnm, a mythical race of horses in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” — necessitated multiple spell-checks for this article.
But the 12-year-old Aurora spelling virtuoso broke it down with ease over the phone Friday afternoon from the Washington, D.C., area, where he was recuperating from and celebrating his second-place finish in the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee following an intense spell-off.
Spelling intrigued Vikram from a young age, he said, after realizing the words “phone” and “fun” started with the same sound but began with different letters.
“I got intrigued with these little quirks, and that led me to my spelling journey,” Vikram said.
Vikram, a student at Aurora Quest K-8, won his first school spelling bee in third grade and progressed from there, getting serious with a spelling coach and hours of daily studying.
He masters root words and language patterns to guide him through his spelling odyssey — and when those fail, he resorts to memorization.
“If I can’t figure it out using roots or rules, that’s really nerve-wracking, and that was the situation I was put in last night,” Vikram said.
For a good stretch of the televised finals Thursday night, Vikram and the bee’s eventual champion, 14-year-old Harini Logan of San Antonio, Texas, duked it out on the national stage.
The two ended up going into a bee’s first-ever lightning round spell-off to determine the champion. They each had 90 seconds to correctly spell as many of the words being read to them as possible. When it was over, Harini had correctly spelled 22 of the 26 words she got through in her 90 seconds, while Vikram got 15 of 19 words.
Vikram said he didn’t expect to advance as far in the Scripps Bee as he did. He previously competed in 2019, when he tied for 51st place, and in 2021, when he tied for 21st.
But thriving off the adrenaline rush the stage brought him, Vikram said he’s thirsting for a repeat performance next year.
“Or even more than second, get first place and win it all in my final year,” Vikram said. “That would be such a dream come true.”
To take his mind off rules and roots, Vikram turns to musical notes and hoops. Piano, he said, is cathartic for him, and shooting baskets is a daily activity that he finds relaxing.
“This whole thing has just been amazing,” Vikram said. “I didn’t think I’d make it this far. Although I did not win this year, the spelling bee has still been a great experience, and I’ve learned so much from the bee — and I’d like to thank everybody who has been supporting me.”
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