Three Santa Fe spellers headed to state bee include brother, sister

January 27, 2019

In the end, the showdown for the tallest trophy was the “sibling rivalry of spelling.”

At least, that’s how spelling bee volunteer Meredith Madri put it Saturday, when she quizzed the Nanda siblings on their final words in the Santa Fe County Spelling Bee.

After more than 15 rounds of single-elimination spelling, the top three spellers of 55 contestants from various schools in the county had been decided: Ashwin Neel and siblings Anirudh and Akansha Nanda.

All three had won a spot to compete at the state-level spelling bee in Albuquerque.

Then it was just a battle for the trophies.

Neel sauntered out of the running first, with a nonchalant, “I tried,” to match his casual purple hoodie and sneakers. He sat nearby, blowing bubbles with his gum and watching the siblings duke it out.

They had trained for this.

The pair, Anirudh, 10, and Akansha, 12, have competed alongside each other for three years now at the county-level spelling bee.

Given their shared passion, the siblings get into fights when they challenge each other with tricky words at home, said their mom, Sujatha Seethapathi.

The practice paid off.

After overcoming the word “millefeuille” — some type of French pastry this reporter had never heard of — in early rounds, Anirudh ensured his spot among among the top three, his first time to advance to the state championship. Anirudh is a fifth-grader at Carlos Gilbert Elementary in Santa Fe.

“I didn’t think I could stand the pain. My legs really hurt from sitting all that while,” Anirudh said after competing for four-plus hours in a conference room at Santa Fe Community College.

But when it got to the final rounds, Anirudh got energized. It was time to face his sister — the reigning state champ.

Last year, after finishing third in the Santa Fe County spelling bee, Akansha won the 2018 New Mexico Spelling Bee and took her skills all the way to Washington, D.C., for last year’s Scripps National Championship bee.

They fought it out over words like “torotoro,” “enneagram,” “altiplano” and “coeval.”

After one misstep by Akansha, a seventh-grader at Mandela International Magnet School, her brother stood to win if he could successfully spell one last challenge word: “halcyon,” the description of an idyllic period of time.

He nailed it.

“I’m basically living off the tradition of a spelling champ,” Anirudh said afterward, giving his sister props for her accomplishments.

Akansha, swallowing the sting of second place that every sibling knows well, set her sights ahead, toward the state championship.

“I’m more than ready to beat him,” she said.

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