By Taylor Dixon
Riya Koya, 14, stood on a national stage June 3 nervously awaiting a word. As one of seven students from Indiana who made it to this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, Koya felt a wave of emotions being the last Hoosier left in the competition.
“It felt really nerve wracking, but I think that kind of feeling of being on stage is more thrilling than anything else,” said Koya, who recently completed eighth grade at Carmel Middle School. “I was expecting to have a lot of stage fright from all the people but they kind of just disappeared once I got my word.”
Finally, she received the word: impayable, a French word meaning priceless. Koya stepped up and missed just one letter, finishing the competition in 32nd place.
Before that, she had spelled deathin, a poisonous plant; aquarelle, a style of painting using thin watercolors; and legatee, a person who receives a legacy. A new component to this year’s competition for Koya was vocabulary, which she passed by choosing the correct definition for “altercation.”
This wasn’t her first time on the national stage. In 2019, Koya tied for 51st place. However, it is her last time competing in the Scripps competition, as she will soon age out of eligibility.
In her younger days, Koya never imagined that she’d become one of the nation’s top spellers. In fourth grade, she participated in her school spelling bee and won. For that, she earned a ticket to regionals, where she lost on the word valero. So, in fifth grade, she tried again, this time advancing out of regionals to the Scripps nationals.
Koya’s favorite part of the experience was the connections she made with other spellers. With the competition taking place in Washington, D.C., Scripps set up tours for the participants. Koya said it was “really cool” to see the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol building.
“I felt like what really stuck with me were all the friends that I made there and all the connections,” she said. “All these spellers get together, and they have lifetime friends, which is really awesome. Even though we’re separated across the nation, we try to keep in touch.”
When she’s not practicing her spelling, Koya can be found exploring her other interests of math and chemistry and playing on her middle school’s tennis team, where she was the No. 1 player. She also spends time helping her younger brother study to become her spelling successor.
Koya’s dad, Afsal Koya, said it was a great experience for his daughter to meet new friends and compete on a national stage.
“I was very proud, very happy to see her on the national stage,” Afsal Koya said. “She was very poised and calm in the face of intense pressure. So, I was very proud of how she handled herself.”