Zaila Avant-garde, the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion made history on July 8, 2021, by becoming the first African-American to win the competition in its 96-year history.

However, spelling bee was only a secondary priority for Avant-garde and she has incredible achievements in basketball, which is her foremost passion. Here are more things about the teenage prodigy’s achievements and goals.

She Chose Spelling Later Than Most Competitors

Though Avant-garde is only fourteen years old, she picked up spelling bee competition at a much older age than her counterparts.

Usually, contestants who take part in these high-level spelling bee competitions start training from their kindergarten days. Avant-garde, on the other hand, only started practicing for spelling bees a few years ago.

However, her routine was not lacking in any aspect. According to BBC, she shared how she prepared for the competition when talking to New Orleans paper the Times-Picayune.

For spelling, I usually try to do about 13,000 words [per day], and that usually takes about seven hours or so. We don’t let it go too overboard, of course. I’ve got school and basketball to do.

Though seven hours every day is a long time, Avant-garde doesn’t seem to think it’s too much. During her appearance in CBS This Morning, she described becoming a Scripps National Spelling Bee champion as a dream come true.

She also added that she had been working towards this goal for two years. The thing that helped her achieve her goal in just two years, according to her coach Cole Shafer-Ray, is her approach to studying the words.

Most spellers look at words simply as a sequence of letters to memorize; Zaila looked at each word as a story. Not only did she know each word’s spelling, but she also knew its entire backstory - what its historical context was…

Guinness World Record Holder

Alongside being great at spelling bees, Avant-garde is also equally capable in basketball. In fact, she holds three basketball-related Guinness world records — most balls juggled in one minute with four basketballs, most dribbles in 30 seconds with four basketballs, and most basketballs dribbled by one person simultaneously (6).

Guinness World Records’ official Twitter handle congratulated Avant-garde on July 9 for winning the spelling bee.

Previously, she had over 20,000 followers on Instagram by showcasing her dribbling and basketball skills. But that number has since rocketed to over 80,000 followers since her victory at the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition.

She is currently one of the top 8th-grade basketball prospects in the country. In the future, Avant-garde wants to play in the WNBA and maybe even coach later on. 

Avant-garde has already achieved much in both basketball and spelling bees as she set out to do. But aside from aspiring to excel in those two things, she has another goal which she is working towards — to work for NASA.