Reality didn’t sink in for Chaitra Thummala while she was on the stage.
It didn’t hit her until she woke up later on that she had just secured her spot as one of the top spellers in the country.
A couple of months after moving from San Francisco to Texas’ own Frisco, the 12-year-old made national news when she won second place in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on July 8 in a competition that involved 209 finalists from across the country as well as the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana and Japan. Thummala finished second to Zaila Avant-garde, who made history as the first African American winner of the bee.
“It’s really exciting and surreal because I’ve been doing spelling since I was 5 years old, and it’s always been a dream of mine to go this far,” Thummala told The Frisco Enterprise.
This is the first year Thummala has been a finalist, but she previously competed in the 2019 iteration of the competition, tying for 51st place at the time. Her more recent feat of finishing second place overall comes after spending at least four to five hours a day of studying and going over books and lists full of words to practice. She gives kudos to her coach, Cole Shafer-Ray, who she said is one of the reasons she got so far, and said she would stay up until around midnight or 1 a.m. to study.
For Thummala, preparations for this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee included working around the changes and disruptions that come with moving from one state to another.
“I stayed up a little later because I needed to study more, and since we have a baby and he can’t adjust to the time differences, I stayed up a little later just so that we could have more time studying,” she said.
Added to the challenge was the fact that this year’s bee included a new virtual component and the introduction of vocabulary questions, Thummala said. The vocabulary portion addition came after eight winners tied as the 2019 champions, including students from Coppell and Flower Mound.
Fresh off the heels of participating in the finals in Florida, Thummala’s competing days aren’t near over yet. She’s preparing for other bees that aren’t related to Scripps, the first of which is quickly approaching. Finals are in August, she said. When it comes to what keeps her going, Thummala’s drive is straightforward.
“It’s like that feeling that I can do better next time or I can continue to do better because there are always next times,” she said. “At least until eighth grade’s done.”
As for standing on the big stage, Thummala said the experience is both exciting and nerve wracking.
“I just tell myself that I’m proud of myself whatever place I get,” she said.