It’s the use of gestures to tell a story.
It’s also the last word Vanya Shivashankar ever had to spell for the Olathe Spelling Bee and she nailed it Thursday morning.
As cheers erupted from the audience and her parents beamed proudly, the 13-year-old felt a taste of triumph tinged with a touch of sadness.
For the fourth year in a row — and for the final time — she won the annual competition. Once again, she will be heading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.
But while the victory is a happy one, it also marks the end of an era for the charismatic teenager.
Her days of spelling words for Olathe bee judges in the auditorium at Frontier Trail Middle School are over. Vanya is in eighth grade now, which means it is her last year to qualify for both the district and national bees.
Therefore, she has one chance left to win the national title.
While some kids might feel overwhelmed by the pressure, Vanya remains her usual laid back self.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I normally do each year — study, have fun and see how far I go,” she said. “There’s no point in stressing. I want to stay calm.”
In the past several years, the California Trail Middle School student has come close to taking home the national title at the televised event. Two years ago, she made it to fifth place.
And in 2009, she watched her older sister, Kavya, earn the coveted first-place trophy at the national bee.
This year, she’s hoping to replicate that feat.
Regardless of how well she does in May, Vanya’s parents are extremely proud of their daughter.
Sitting in the audience during the Olathe Spelling Bee this year was emotional for them. The district competition has been a huge part of their lives for the past 10 years.
“A chapter is closing for our family,” said Mirle Shivashankar. “We’ve become friends with a lot of other parents. We’ve watched our kids grow together. Our kids don’t see each other as competition because it’s the words they’re going up against.”
Both Vanya and her father noticed the competition is getting fiercer each year, which they both appreciate.
They plan to come back to the Olathe spelling bee next year to cheer on their friends and new faces.
Many of Vanya’s fellow contestants are already looking forward to next year’s challenge.
Annam Ramasamy, a seventh-grader at Santa Fe Trail Middle School, took home the second-place trophy.
While crushed she didn’t win this year, she’s hoping to make it to nationals in eighth grade.
“I can’t put into words how much I love spelling,” Annam said. “It takes a considerable amount of work to get to this point, but it’s worth it every time.”
One of the youngest contenders, who made it to fifth place, was David Lye, a third-grader from Sunnyside Elementary School.
He sailed through each round until “fulsomely” fumbled his stride.
Heartbroken, he rushed with tears in his eyes to his consoling parents in the audience after misspelling the word, which means “in an abundant manner.”
“He did awesome, I’m so proud of him,” said his mom, Kelly Vuong, as she comforted her son. “He studied 20 to 30 words per day since November. He worked so hard.”
Watching the ambitious and bright young David on stage took Shivashankar down memory lane. Vanya was in third grade as well when she competed in the Olathe Spelling Bee for the very first time, her dad pointed out.
And while she reaches the end of her spelling bee journey, her dad insists the family will still be involved in the activity in different ways.
Like her father and sister, Vanya hopes to become a pronouncer at spelling bees around the nation. Maybe even a judge one day.
Her name won’t be fading from headlines any time soon either. This week, Vanya made it into the top five on the Lifetime reality series Child Genius, which airs at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. She filmed the first season of the show last summer.
While her future looks bright, Vanya said she owes everything to spelling bees.
“It’s not just about how to spell words,” she said. “I’ve learned discipline and hard work. There are life lessons that I’ll use for the rest of my life.”