Two Colorado students headed to Scripps National Spelling Bee

Aditi Muthukumar exerted a prowess so potent as to overcome the second-best speller in the nation during March’s Colorado State Spelling Bee, partly because of an innate desire for victory and partly because the 12-year-old’s parents promised her a cat if she won.

Welcome home, kitty.

After a daunting five-hour, 53-round spelling bee — the latter half a volley between Westminster’s Aditi and Aurora’s Vikram Raju, who came in second at the Scripps National Spelling Bee last year — Aditi clinched the win by correctly spelling “hylozoism.”

“It was so surreal,” she said of winning the Denver Post-sponsored state bee. “I was hoping to win, but I wasn’t expecting to win.”

The seventh-grader at Hulstrom Options K-8 School joins Sofia Tommey Wu, winner of the Boulder Valley School District’s regional spelling bee, as the two students who will represent Colorado among the 231 spellers vying to win the 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee, which runs from May 30 to June 1.

Past Colorado spelling hotshots secured their spots in the national competition with the help of spelling bee coaches or homeschooling schedules that took their studying to hard-core extremes. Aditi and Sofia have come by their word nerdiness naturally.

For 10-year-old Sofia, wordsmithing runs in the family.

Sofia’s mom, Rita Wu, was a 1998 Scripps National Spelling Bee contestant. Wu said her adolescent spelling career was largely driven by pressure from her parents, so she takes care to keep spelling a low-pressure activity Sofia does because she wants to.

“You have to make sure you really want to do it because otherwise, it won’t be fun,” said Sofia, a fifth-grader at Boulder’s Douglass Elementary School who also enjoys swimming. “And if you really want it, you can probably work to where you want to go because you’re going to work so hard for it.”

Mom and daughter spend time studying together and are still processing Sofia’s win in the Boulder bee — champion word: “dissonance” — and upcoming trip to the nation’s capital for the nationally-televised Scripps competition.

Sofia skipped a grade, so she’s entering the competition young, Wu said, and her family is incredibly proud.

“I feel like I might not have taken it all in yet,” Sofia said. “I sort of still don’t really believe that I’m going, but I’m really excited because it sounds fun. I am really, really nervous, though.”

For Aditi, the perfectionism required to be a spelling whiz has infiltrated other aspects of her life.

Her bedroom doubles as a shrine to the medals, trophies and plaques she’s racked up over the years. In kindergarten, Aditi won best handwriting in the state. She’s earned math accolades and reading merits, and participated in cybersecurity competitions. She performs Indian classical dance, volunteers through the National Junior Honor Society, is a member of her school’s robotics club and serves as student body vice president.

In her free time, Aditi is writing a science fiction book.

“Academics are so important to me,” Aditi said. “My friends tease me that I’m a complete nerd, but it makes me feel good to be a successful person and know it’s all leading to going to an Ivy League college and getting a stable job.”

Aditi is an aspiring geneticist with goals like curing diseases and developing vaccines on her to-do list.

For now, she’s studying root words and vocabulary.

While Aditi was freestyling her studying beforehand with deep dives through a Merriam-Webster dictionary bigger than her head, she’s now secured a spelling coach who she’ll meet with virtually in the run-up to the big bee.

Neither student has graced the stage at the national competition before; both said they were anxious but excited to see what it’s all about.

The Colorado contingent has another thing in common: a love for the Harry Potter series.

The girls and their families — and Sofia’s lucky stuffed octopus named Liz — will be headed to bee week in the Washington, D.C., area, where spellers from across the country will converge.

“Until then, I’ll be studying, eating, sleeping and repeating,” Aditi said.

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