On July 8, 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde became the first African American contestant to win the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee in the competition’s 93-year history.
Correctly spelling the word “murraya” — a type of tree — is what solidified her triumphant victory. Throughout the competition, she also spelled her way through other challenging and rarely used words including “querimonious,” “solidungulate,” and “Nepeta,” which she said was her most tricky one to tackle.
“It would have been really bad if I had gotten knocked out then because I would have been kicking myself, because I knew everything about the word except exactly how to spell it,” she said on CNN’s New Day on Friday morning.
The “competition began with 209 spellers, ranging from 9 to 15 years old, from five countries: the US, the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, and Japan. And 11 contestants entered Thursday night’s final.” the outlet reported.
In addition to being the first African American to take home the prize, the only other Black winner in the Scripps National Spelling Bee’s history is Jody-Anne Maxwell who represented Jamaica in 1998.
Speaking about her win, Zalia said on New Day this morning, “It felt really good to win because I have been working on it for like two years. So to actually win the whole thing was like a dream come true.” She added, “I felt like in the moment I snapped out of a surreal dream.”
While she’s now officially one of the most gifted spellers in the world, Zalia’s talents span other areas too. She’s currently the Guinness World Records holder for the most bounce juggles in one minute. A video posted on the brand’s Twitter page detailed that she started dribbling when she was 5 years old.
In that clip, the 14-year-old inspiringly says, “I think the more that the achievements and triumphs of women are promoted and publicized, the more likely it is that other girls all around the world will see that they can do any and everything that they put their minds to.”
CNN reports that she often shows off her hooping skills to her tens of thousands of Instagram followers and that Zalia “hopes to one day become a professional basketball player and join the WNBA.”
Zalia will be taking home a $50,000 cash prize for her big win at Scripps on Thursday night.
Congrats once again to the young champion!