March 9: If aspiring heart surgeon Kush Sharma, 13, makes it to medical school, don’t expect him to stumble over words such as “tachycardia”.
On Saturday, the savvy Kansas kid with roots in Punjab topped a spelling contest after a 30-round tiebreaker — a rematch whose original version was halted two weeks ago when the judges ran out of words (to ask) after 66 rounds.
“Definition,” the judges said as the seventh-grader stepped up to the microphone to take his 30th question of the day — and 96th overall in the shootout for the Jackson County Spelling Bee crown.
“Definition, please” Kush asked. He listened carefully as he was told the word’s origin, how it is used in a sentence and which part of speech it belongs to. He then mock-wrote the word on his palm before nailing it.
“I like to think it through instead of rushing it. I usually ask all the questions one is allowed to ask,” Kush told The Telegraph over the phone from Kansas.
He next heads for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington DC in May, where a win could land him face to face with President Barack Obama to shake his hands.
For now, he is excited about the “computer and skull candy earphones” his parents have promised him.
Sophia Hoffman, 11, had kept pace with Kush for 29 rounds till she choked on the word “stifling”, misspelling it “s-t-e-i-f--e-i-”.
Kush let on that he had almost tripped up over “polecat”, wondering “if there’s an ‘e’ or not”.
Before the May 25 nationals, he plans to go through “3,000 pages of the abridged international dictionary… which has words from all over the world”.
Kush is determined to keep “practising and practising instead of playing, and covering at least 100 pages a day”.
“My son puts in his best in whatever he does. For him, it’s very important to be No. 1, so we aren’t worried about the next rounds!” his father said.
Kush feels his strengths are a “positive attitude and willpower”. It helps that he doesn’t “grabble” while spelling words, or suffer tachycardia. That’s abnormally rapid heartbeats, if you didn’t know.