Cool and collected, Kavya Shivashankar wrote out every word on her palm and always ended with a smile. The 13-year-old Kansas girl saved the biggest smile for last, when she rattled off the letters to "Laodicean" to become the nation's spelling champion. The budding neurosurgeon from Olathe, Kan., outlasted 11 finalists Thursday night to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, taking home more than $40,000 in cash and prizes and, of course, the huge champion's trophy.
After spelling the winning word, which means lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics, Kavya got huge hugs from father Mirle, mother Sandy and little sister Vanya. "The competitiveness is in her," Mirle Shivashankar said. "But she doesn't show that. She still has that smile. That's her quality."
Kavya won in her fourth appearance at the bee, having finished 10th, eighth and fourth over the last three years. She enjoys playing the violin, bicycling, swimming and learning Indian classical dance, and her role model is Nupur Lala, the 1999 champion featured in the documentary "Spellbound." "This is the moment we've been waiting for; it's a dream come true," Mirle said. "We haven't skipped meals, we haven't lost sleep, but we've skipped a lot of social time."