Zaila Avant-garde made history on Thursday when she became the first Black American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 93 editions of the competition.
To secure her win, the 14-year-old form New Orleans had to correctly spell words like querimonious, encephalopathy, and Nepeta, which she said was the hardest word she had to spell in the competition.
Zaila won the 2021 crown after correctly spelling thew word “murrava.”
The competition began with 209 spellers, from 15 different countries, ranging in age from 9 to 15. By Thursday night’s final there were just 11 contestants remaining.
Zaila outlasted the 10 other finalists to win the first prize of $50,000 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
Most of the top Scripps spellers start training and competing as young as 5 years old, however Zaila started only a few years ago. She progressed quickly and made it to the nationals in 2019 but didn’t make it past the preliminary rounds.
After that she started to take spelling more seriously and began working with Cole Shafer-Ray, a 20-year-old Yale student and the 2015 Scripps runner-up.
Shafer-Ray quickly realized that Zaila was extremely gifted.
“Usually to be as good as Zaila, you have to be well-connected in the spelling community. You have to have been doing it for many years,” Shafer-Ray said. “It was like a mystery, like, ‘Is this person even real?'”
In addition to being the National Spelling Bee champion, Zaila is one of the best 8th grade girls basketball players in the country, according to ESPN.
She also holds three Guinness World Records. One for most balls juggled in one minute with four basketballs, one for most dribbles in 30 seconds with four basketballs and one for most basketballs dribbled by one person simultaneously (6).
Zaila says she hopes to one day play basketball at Harvard. She told CNN she isn’t sure which career she wants to pursue yet but she has it narrowed down to four – a career at NASA, an NBA coach, a neuroscientist or exploring the field of gene editing.