SAN ANTONIO — Harini Logan's favorite word can change daily. Her current fascination is Taltushtuntude. The Taltushtuntude are a tribe of Oregonian Indians, by the way.
"I like it because it sounds funny," she said.
The 13-year-old is open about her love of words, no matter the language or what it means.
"Words are so much more than what they seem. Words are so much more than what they mean," Harini said.
Rampriya Logan, Harini's mother, said she got startled when her infant grabbed an upside-down book in front of her. The book, she said, had no pictures.
"At eight months (old), she knew that she has to turn the book right to look at it," Logan said.
She and her husband, Logan Anjaneyulu, watched their daughter's adoration for reading grow. A birthday treat for her, to this day, is going to Barnes & Noble.
By the time she reached the second grade, Harini had entered and won her first spelling bee. Harini caught the bug by watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee on television.
"What if I get to do this? Because I like words, I like to read?" Harini said.
At the advice of a spelling bee parent, the couple supported their daughter's love of words. But they quickly learned it's not a word crunch.
"It's not like you just have a number of words on your plate when you're in the second grade," Logan said. "You just start crunching them all the time. That's not how it is."
The art of the spelling bee is much more like acquiring the skills of a word detective. Even though competitors get a 'Words of Champions' list, the advanced rounds are pure intelligence, language patterns and guesswork.
"Kids who make it at least know 120,000 words by heart," her mother said. "Those are the kids who can really win the competition."
Harini competes nationally. She's been to Scripps three times, placing 323, 29 and 31. The losses sting, but the salve of motivation keeps her going.
"It doesn't matter how well you did this time; you did work hard," Harini said. "But the harder you work, the more you will improve."
The Montessori School of San Antonio student said it's not just failing to fail. She uses the shortfalls as fuel to keep her going.
"I think spelling bees has really helped me sort of get used to life," she said. "Because life isn't all like rainbows. It's not perfect."
She said it has developed her emotional composure to cope with the valleys in life and stress. The competition has also made her more strategic. For instance, Harini keeps a spreadsheet with easily one hundred tabs called "Harini's repeat mistake words." She works hard to take words off of that list.
Preparing for a 'bee' may call for up to six-hour sessions on weekends or two hours on school nights with her mom and father supporting her.
Younger brother Naren vows for equal trophy space in the room where his sister's awards line the wall. First, he needs to make it to the first grade.
Meantime, Harini gets cash prizes for the competitions. Most are between $500 to $1,000. She did take home a $4,000 purse.
"You can get anywhere you want with hard work, determination and consistency," she said.
The teen is also mentoring other spellers. Harini enjoys singing, watching Marvel movies, swimming, reading and drama when she's not competing.