She's the first African American winner in history, and she's our new role model.

Olivia Harvey
Jul 09, 2021 @ 12:18 pm
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Zaila Avante-garde
Credit: JIM WATSON/POOL/AFP, Getty Images

On July 8th, 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde was crowned champion of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee after nailing the spelling of "murraya," a genus of flowering plants in the citrus family, Rutaceae. She celebrated by doing an appropriately adorable twirl on stage, and we just adore her.

Avant-garde, a Harvey, Louisiana, native, is the first African American student to take home the $50,000 cash prize in the competition's nearly 100-year history. The spelling bee, which was launched in 1925, was canceled for the first time since WWII last year due to the pandemic. The 2021 Scripps bee is the competition's official comeback and aired live on ESPN2.

Not only is Avant-garde an expert speller, but she also holds three Guinness world records for simultaneously dribbling basketballs, and currently has her sights set on a WNBA career. She told ESPN that spelling is just a "side hobby."

"I was pretty relaxed on the subject of murraya and pretty much any other word I got," Avant-garde said. "I kind of thought I would never be into spelling again, but I'm also happy that I'm going to make a clean break from it. I can go out, like my Guinness world records, just leave it right there and walk off."

Unlike many other Scripps competitors, Avant-garde only started training a few years ago, whereas many begin around kindergarten. Her coach told ESPN that Avant-garde's spelling ability is only the tip of the iceberg. "She basically knew the definition of every word that we did, like pretty much verbatim," he said. "She knew, not just the word but the story behind the word, why every letter had to be that letter and couldn't be anything else."

Avant-garde is the whizkid of the year, and we're all collectively obsessed with her.

New role model just dropped. Congrats, Zaila!