Charlotte native Akshra Paimagam tied for 39th place at the Scripps National Spelling Bee semifinals Thursday, a bittersweet but ultimately satisfying end to a spectacular run by the Randolph Middle School sixth-grader.
Her finishing place puts her in an elite group at the top of a competition that started with 11 million students drawn from across the country and around the world.
She was eliminated after misspelling the word “calefy,” a verb meaning “to make warm.”
“I am really happy and a little disappointed that I missed that word, but I’m really relieved,” Akshra said.
Akshra, 12, was the sole Charlotte-based student to advance to the semifinals from the preliminaries Wednesday. She won The Charlotte Observer spelling bee in February to make it to Maryland.
Kayleigh Guffey, Allison Brower and Rexen Venevongsoth – all attending school in the Charlotte area – were eliminated Wednesday. Akshra was one of only two students from the state of North Carolina to advance to the semifinals.
Thursday’s oral spelling rounds served up a litany of complicated and tongue-twisting words.
They included: xenodochium (a house of care and rest for pilgrims and foreigners), naranjilla (a tropical perennial plant native to South America), improvisatrice (a female improvisational entertainer) and morphallaxis (the regeneration of biological tissue due to loss or death of existing tissue).
The competition included words of Arabic, Hawaiian, Portuguese, Turkic and aboriginal Australian origin.
Many of the spellers used personal strategies for deciphering the increasingly difficult words, including spelling with their fingers on their name cards and forearms. More than a few pushed the two-minute time limit.
The spelling bee ended in a tie for the second year, with Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kan., and Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Mo., as co-champions.
According to Scripps, more than 11 million students took part in the 2015 bee. While most spellers are American, students from China, Jamaica, Ghana, South Korea and the Bahamas participated in this year’s competition.
Akshra, who captured five school-level and district-level spelling bee titles to get to the national competition, isn’t ruling out an encore at Scripps.
“I am definitely planning to come back,” she said.