May 27, 2013

'Spellbound' star reflects on a Spelling Bee life

The Associated Press

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There have also been a disproportionate number of recent winners interested in the brain and medicine, including several who said they wanted to grow up to be neurosurgeons. Lala pursued an undergraduate degree in brain, behavior and cognitive sciences at the University of Michigan, in part because of her experiences from the bee.

"Why do I remember certain words and not others? Why isn't my memory so good for everything else?" she said. "That question sort of drew me into research."

At least much of the terminology was familiar. After studying all those big words for the bee, a standard vocabulary test is a breeze.

"I remember taking the GRE years ago," she said, "and how I had such an edge over other competitors because I basically studied the vocabulary component for the Spelling Bee."

National Spelling Bee champions are a small and tight-knit group — Lala keeps tabs with many of her fellow winners — and she marvels that she had the nerve to pull off her win all those years ago. She turned down a chance to be featured on an MTV reality show that wanted to follow her through college; she wasn't comfortable with the idea and didn't feel she was crazy enough to be interesting.

Besides, there is life beyond the bee — and the public perception of what a bee winner should be — and that's where Lala prefers to keep her focus, at least during the 51 weeks a year when she's not glued to the television to see another successor crowned. Like Lala, this week's champion will have a winning moment etched in America's collective conscious and immortalized on the Internet, lasting long after he or she has grown up to pursue an impressive degree or career.

"It's something that you fight quite a bit," Lala said. "Especially now that I feel like I'm on a career path, it's becoming a little bit easier. ... People always thought of me as this nerdy, excitable, just-an-awkward kid. Now they can see me as somebody beyond that, I hope."

 

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