Akshra Paimagam is only 12 and just finishing sixth grade. But you’ve never heard of her favorite word.
“I really like the word ‘pickelhaube’ because it’s German and hard to spell,” she says.
For those not in the know, it’s a spiked military helmet.
Akshra’s fascination with words both tricky and arcane may explain why she finds herself at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the famous eighth grade-and-under spelling contest that will crown its 2015 winner on Thursday. Akshra, a student at Randolph Middle School, won The Charlotte Observer Spelling Bee in February to make it here.
Akshra’s love of spelling started in the second grade; four years later, she’s one of 14 spellers representing North Carolina. She says she’s excited to be here, even if she’s missing a school field trip with her friends to attend.
“They’re (her friends) trying to make me jealous about this trip because they get to go somewhere else, but they can’t make me jealous,” she says confidently.
Aside from spelling and excelling in school generally, Akshra also plays the violin and dances ballet. Those other commitments, however, will have to wait for the next few days. Foregoing any Maryland sightseeing or a visit to Washington, Akshra plans to hit the books in preparation for the oral spelling preliminaries Wednesday.
Her father, Prem Sriramulu, is incredibly proud of his daughter but admits the emotional roller coaster of competition can be stressful.
“Currently, I don’t feel that nervous, but the school, class, regional competition – that was nerve-wracking,” he says.
The experience was so taxing that his wife, who helps Akshra with her studying, didn’t come to the national bee. It’s so difficult for her, Sriramulu says, because his wife already knows the words in the competition from practicing with her daughter.
“I don’t know the words,” he laughs. “I just sit there and hope the bell doesn’t ring.”
Even though it’s her first time, Akshra is optimistic and likes her chances.
“I was really excited and happy,” she says of her victory in the state regional competition. “I was elated. I was so proud of myself that I get to come to this level.”