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Rio Rancho student claims state spelling bee crown

Eliana Juarez of Mountain View Middle School in Rio Rancho reacts after correctly spelling the final word to win the 2019 Albuquerque Journal New Mexico Spelling Bee on Saturday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hard work and long hours of studying paid off for 14-year-old Eliana Juarez, who took first place in the 2019 Albuquerque Journal New Mexico Spelling Bee.

The eighth-grader from Mountain View Middle School in Rio Rancho beat out 51 other elementary and middle school students in the course of the four-and-a-half-hour event held at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque on Saturday.

Juarez, rocking back-and-forth on her toes and heels, won the 72nd annual competition by correctly spelling the championship word “tardigrade,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “any of a phylum of microscopic invertebrates with four pairs of stout legs that live usually in water or damp moss.”

Juarez will now head to the Scripps National Spelling Bee outside of Washington, D.C., at the end of May.

“I’m really excited for nationals,” she said, “and I’m going to work really hard for that.”

Takuys Ii looks up to the microphone as he spells during the 2019 New Mexico Spelling Bee at Sandia Preparatory School. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

This wasn’t the first competition for Juarez. In addition to winning her school and district spelling bees, she placed second in the 2018 New Mexico Spelling Bee, and has been competing in bees since the sixth grade.

Since winning the Rio Rancho district bee on Jan. 18, Juarez said she has been practicing intensely and studying “every chance I could get.”

“It’s extremely stressful, very high pressure, because the smallest mistake will just disqualify you for the next levels,” she said.

Juarez is the first student from Rio Rancho to compete in the national competition.

“I’m really happy that I’m going to be able to represent my school and the district,” she said.

“We’re very excited for her. She’ll be a terrific representative for the state,” said Kim Vesely, co-coordinator of the Rio Rancho spelling bee.

Beyond being a spelling whiz, Juarez hopes to someday work in the medical profession, even perhaps becoming a surgeon.

Steve Johnson of Datil makes a face after spelling a word during 2019 Albuquerque Journal New Mexico Spelling Bee on Saturday (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The competition on Saturday was stiff and four hours after the bee began, only six students remained.

Dhruv Grandhe, 12, placed second, but ultimately lost out to the word “alimentary,” which means relating to nourishment or sustenance, in the 16th round. He spelled it “alamentory.”

Grandhe, a sixth-grader at the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science, or AIMS, said he practiced for an hour and a half every night.

This was the third state spelling bee he has competed in, but Grandhe said that he still gets nervous and worries about making a small mistake.

Dustin Parsons, 14, of Eastern Hills Christian Academy in Albuquerque and Garrick Tam, 11, were brought back after Juarez won to compete for third place. Tam, a fifth-grader at Sandia Base Elementary School, broke the tie by correctly spelling the word “ambrotype,” defined as a photographic negative on glass, backed by a dark surface.

Students from 291 schools across New Mexico competed in various competitions since August to get to the state competition, spelling bee coordinator Lynn Marie Rusaw said.

“I’m so proud of these kids because they’re so awesome,” she said.

Pictured, from left, are the top finishers at the 2019 New Mexico Spelling Bee: Dhruv Grandhe of the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science (second place), Eliana Juarez of Mountain View Middle School in Rio Rancho (first place), and Garrick Tam of Sandia Base Elementary (third place). (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)


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