Before winning the Columbia County spelling bee, Rachael Cundey never bothered to practice.
Now that she is representing the county in the district spelling bee Saturday at The Augusta Chronicle building on Broad Street, the 10-year-old regularly flips through the pages of a dictionary and writes down words she doesn't already know, her mother, Tammy Cundey, said.
"The last I checked, she was still in the 'A's'," Mrs. Cundey said.
Rachael's spelling abilities play into her natural literary inclinations, her parents said.
"She's a voracious reader," said Rachael's father, Heath Cundey.
"She just loves books," added Mrs. Cundey. "She reads anything she can get her hands on."
A gifted pupil, Rachael was reading on a college level in the third grade.
A fourth-grader at South Columbia Elementary, Rachael defeated 24 other champion spellers from the county's elementary and middle schools in February to become the youngest county-wide spelling bee champ in more than a decade.
"I was so excited," Rachael said after winning. "I couldn't believe it."
Though it was "nerve-racking" facing older pupils at the county bee, Rachael said she didn't expect to win, which eased the pressure.
Ms. Cundey said that Rachael again sees herself as the underdog heading into Saturday's district contest.
"She realizes there are going to be older kids there, and I think that lessens her pressure," Mrs. Cundey said. "We're just telling her to do the best she can."
Regardless of the outcome Saturday, Ms. Cundey said she constantly reminds her daughter that she already is a winner.
"Her dad and I are telling her what an accomplishment it was for her to get this far as a fourth-grader," Ms. Cundey said.
"It's a big responsibility for a fourth-grader to do this. We tell her we love her either way."
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