February 24, 2014

3-time Observer Spelling Bee champion gained confidence, perspective

Victories in spelling bee “gave a small-town girl confidence she could go out into the world and do something,” Megan Chappell remembers.

Ever wonder what happens to spelling phenoms over the years to adulthood?

They lose fears. They gain perspective. They turn their love of language into a job. Even Latin comes in handy – if you’re Megan Chappell.

Observer readers with long memories may recall that she won The Charlotte Observer Regional Spelling Bee in 1994, 1995 and 1996. (Marshall Winchester and Anant Raut also achieved that feat over the last three decades.) Her post-win reaction, pretty much every time: “Thank God this is over.”

Now 32, she works at SoftPro, a Raleigh company that designs real estate software for attorneys. She has a law degree herself. And she recalls her win as an event that “gave a small-town girl confidence she could go out into the world and do something.

“I was grateful it was over every time, but that was just nerves. (The national bee in Washington) was a great experience – great for meeting people, for expanding my vocabulary, for motivating me to travel more extensively.”

The small town was Candor, Montgomery County home of the North Carolina Peach Festival. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it sits on 1.2 square miles about 70 miles east of Charlotte and contains 840 people. Chappell was the one who could spell jabot, hallucinatory and xerostomia, the words that won for her in 1994, ’95 and ’96, respectively.

She went on to become an English major at Wake Forest University (class of 2004) and get a law degree from Campbell University (class of 2007).

“A big part of that came from the spelling bee,” she says. “I went heavily into reading and writing, and that helped with all the college papers I had to do. Studying the Latin roots of words helped me in law school with legal terms. And I became a very good proofreader.”

She has forgotten the words that knocked her out at the top level. “My mom may have them written down somewhere,” she says with a laugh.

She has never forgotten the self-confidence she gained.

“I could say to myself, ‘I did that. Since I did, I know I can do this other thing staring me in the face.’ I felt that way about the bar exam – and it was true.”

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