WESTERN SPRINGS – A Russian word for snow leopard, "Irbis," was the one word to stump 14-year-old Alia Abiad during the 87th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee Championship Finals on Thursday night.
Abiad, a Western Springs resident and eighth grade student at McClure Junior High, exited the stage as the final girl contestant, leaving behind four boys to determine the winner. Ultimately, Sriram Hathwar, 14, of New York, and Ansun Sujoe, 13, of Texas would share the win.
The road to the ESPN sponsored championships began for Abiad after she spelled her way through the semifinals on Thursday morning along with 11 other finalists.
Looking back on her final trip to the bee, Abiad said she was shocked and happy just to have had the experience.
"My goal had been to make it to the finals, but i never thought i could actually make it," Abiad said.
Winning the spelling bee comes with a $30,000 cash prize, a Scripps trophy, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond, a complete Merriam-Webster reference library and more.
"During the finals I knew I had already met my goal so I was focusing hard," Abiad said. "I didn't know what to expect."
With the other contestants constantly cheering each other on, Abiad said it didn't feel like she was competing, but rather she was simply testing herself.
"It didn't feel cut throat, or competitive," Abiad said. "It was really cheerful, warm and friendly."
Participating in the bee taught Abiad how to deal with pressure, handle success or the lack of, develop a sense of work ethic and more, she said.
While Abiad said she'd recommend competing in the bee to others, she also said she'd tell future contestants to study and prepare extremely hard.
"You get out what you put in," Abiad said. "And it's nice to see your hard work pay off."
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