Livia Regan says it was "unreal" when she heard her named announced as the winner of this year's regional spelling bee, but her father wasn't surprised.
"The thing is, when Livia was 6 years old, I asked her to spell silhouette, which is a hard word to spell, and she spelled it out loud. I was stunned," says Sean Regan, who teaches at Portland State University. "So I think it's not just the product of a lot of hard work, but I think she's actually just a good speller."
Regan's confidence in his daughter might also stem from the fact that he was one of a small army of friends and family who constantly quizzed her on potential words to spell.
"I'm sure I annoyed my friends completely — I just asked my friends and my parents to read me words all the time, and if I got it wrong they would tell me, of course, the correct spelling," Livia says. "So I'm sure they were very annoyed."
The Portland Tribune/Comcast Regional Spelling Bee took place on the morning of March 18. Livia and other regional winners from across the country will now move on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is scheduled for the week of May 28 in Washington, D.C.
Livia says participants for the regional contest were given a list of potential words from which to study, but it wasn't extensive; it contained just 75 percent of all the potential bee words. For the other 25 percent, she adopted a strategy her grandmother taught her.
"For the other words, instead of learning the dictionary, my grandma taught me some basic rules for medical words and basic rules for words of different languages," she says.
Indeed, she and her grandmother, who is a nurse, went over medical terms that actually included the word she spelled for the regional title: subcutaneous, which in anatomical terminology means situated beneath the skin.
Livia also developed a quiet sense of humor during her preparation; for example, she mentions one word she had to completely guess with bewilderment: "Skookum, like what is that?"
Livia is a shy, precocious eighth-grader who attends ACCESS Academy, an accelerated program for gifted students based in Northeast Portland. She lives in Southwest Portland with her parents and her dog, Maggie. Her mother is also a professor, at Lewis & Clark College.
Livia says she entered this year's contest because she won her school bee last year and "had a title to uphold." But she also realizes that she has a knack for spelling.
"I've always been somewhat interested in words," she says. "It's amazing that we can communicate with just 26 letters and mean everything we need to mean."
Her interest extends to words in other languages. Livia knows French fluently and has three years of Spanish classes under her belt. In her free time, she enjoys reading "escapist literature" — fantasy, sci-fi, etc. She also creates her own stories and draws accompanying cartoons.
Though Livia loves language acquisition and is a voracious reader, her real passion is for the sciences. She hopes to be an epidemiologist someday.
"I read a lot of books on the Black Death and got really into that; and that just drew me to hopefully try to prevent that in the future," Livia said. "I'm sure with climate change and deforestation there's going to be a lot more (disease spread)."
As for the Scripps Bee at the end of the month, Livia's excitement stems mostly from wanting to visit her aunt and uncle, who live in the D.C. area. She's trying to maintain a cool-headed perspective.
"I don't think I'm going to win the bee," she says. "I study. I study a lot. I study like more than an hour every night, but the people who win the bee have been studying their entire lives. I'm just going to try to get past the first couple rounds of it."