Rahul Sachdev and his older brother, Rohan, were the last two spellers on stage at the Wake County Spelling Bee in March when Rohan spelled a word incorrectly. Rahul was about to spell the championship word to clinch a victory.
But never having topped his older brother in a spelling bee before, the 11-year-old asked Rohan if he should misspell the championship word on purpose. If his older brother won, he would return to the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the second year in a row.
“No, go for it,” Rohan, 13, told his younger brother. “If you know it, go for it.”
He did. Rahul correctly spelled “ohm,” which is the standard unit of electrical resistance.
This paved the way for Rahul, a fifth-grader representing the Cary Homeschoolers group, to go to the national bee this week at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. The week of events begins Sunday, May 22, and onstage rounds begin Wednesday, May 25.
Their mother, Shubha, didn’t find out about the brother’s exchange on stage until after the county spelling bee was over.
“We were pretty touched and moved by what they had to share,” she said. “That’s where I told them, competitions aside, you showed the true sense of being brothers. That was a very proud moment for me.”
While Rahul and Rohan know when to be supportive of each other, they also know when to compete – and they love doing it. Almost every surface of the family room of the Sachdevs’ Cary home is covered with more than 150 of the brothers’ trophies.
It started when Rohan won his first spelling bee in his early years at Laurel Park Elementary, but Rahul wasn’t allowed to compete yet because he wasn’t old enough.
The next year, they were the only two students left on stage and spent almost an hour correctly spelling word after word before Rohan was declared the winner. This continued for several years, always ending with Rohan moving on to the county spelling bee.
“(Rahul) always complained that just because Rohan is in the spelling bee, that he can’t move forward,” Shubha said.
That changed this year when Rohan moved to Carnage Middle School and the two were able to face off at the county level.
Since Rahul’s victory at the Wake County Spelling Bee, Rahul has been studying a list of 400 words that may appear at the national event. Sometimes Rohan quizzes him on the words.
“I knew some of them. Some of them were new to me,” Rahul said. “I know all of them now.”
His favorite word is Sprechstimme, a vocal style that combines elements of song and speech – and he can spell it without hesitation.
Outside of spelling, Rahul excels in studies and sports. He has been a North South Foundation National Vocabulary Champion and achieved an almost perfect score on the Duke TIP ACT test in the fifth grade. He also is the fourth best tennis player in North Carolina in his age group.
Shubha and her husband, Rajan, said Rahul manages everything himself, even cracking open the books on his own after hours of tennis practice.
“He is a very motivated and disciplined kid,” Shubha said. “It’s like a parent’s dream, basically.”
However, she said, she doesn’t want him to study too much, but instead enjoy playing tennis and “being a kid.”
No matter what happens at the national spelling competition, Rahul will join his older brother at Carnage Middle School next year, so only one of them will be able to compete at the 2017 Wake County Spelling Bee. It also will be Rohan’s last year to qualify before he enters high school.
“I’ll win,” Rohan said confidently.
Rahul just smiled.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Here are other spellers representing the Triangle.
▪ Abigail Pittman, 13, eighth grade at Southside Christian School in Clayton
▪ Bettie Lehem Closs, 12, seventh grade at Lucas Middle School in Durham
▪ Kellan Rhys All, 12, seventh grade at Harnett Central Middle School in Angier
▪ The preliminary test is Tuesday, May 24, and Wednesday, May 25. Wednesday’s round is on ESPN3. Spellers will find out at the end of Wednesday whether they advance to the finals.
▪ Finals start at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 26, on ESPN2 and resume at 8 p.m. on ESPN.