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Washington • Utahn Vismaya Kharkar made it to the top 10 of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday, but lost a spot in the finals for the lack of an "s" and one too many "r's."
The 13-year-old from the Challenger School in Salt Lake City made it through five rounds of the spell-a-thon until she came across the French-derived word pissaladière, which means an open-faced pastry topped with olives, onions and anchovies.
It's a "good lunchtime word," a judge said as he read the Utah student the word at the National Harbor's Gaylord National Resort.
"Really?" Kharkar responded. "I'm hungry."
The seventh-grader, who had properly spelled words like kielbasa and dysthymia and nearly made it to the finals, smiled after misspelling her word but showed no outward expression of sadness.
She shouldn't have.
Nearly 280 kids from across the United States and from Department of Defense schools worldwide participated in the national contest, which was whittled down to just nine for the final round to be broadcast on ESPN Thursday night.
In addition to being a terrific speller, Kharkar is an honor choir member and pianist. She has won the Superior cup at the Piano Federation's duet and solo competitions six years in a row.
Kharkar even brought a moment of levity to the intense bee when she was given her word, allothogenic, in the fifth round.
"What?" she said, as if the judge was offering up Gobbledygook.
She got it right, though.
Kharkar said after the contest that she was "ecstatic" she made it that far and plans to come back next year to bring the national spelling bee cup back to Utah.
"I am just really happy," she said. "I don't have any regrets. I'm glad that I made it as far as I did. I am definitely proud of it."
The seventh-grader noted that she studied for hours on end to prepare, looking up definitions for every "funny word" she could find.
Her parents, Sandeep and Pallavi Ranade-Kharkar, both software engineers, were excited for their daughter as well, especially after all the stress of the competition.
"We can't even mention how proud of her we are and for what she has achieved," said her dad, Sandeep Kharkar, noting that it was almost a family motto to dive into work with passion.
"For us, working hard and doing what you're supposed to do is not something we think about. That's what we do. That always comes first."
Two other Utah students made it to the bee, held just outside of Washington, though they didn't make the semifinals: Jared Ward, 13, a seventh-grader from Albert R. Lyman Middle School in Blanding, and Sophie Choate, 11, a sixth-grader from Westridge Elementary School in Provo.
No Utahn has ever won the spelling bee that's been held since 1925. But Kharkar could be back to change that. She has one more year of eligibility for the contest.
And after that, well, Kharkar has big plans.
She plans to make a career in oncology and, she says, "I want to find the cure for cancer."
Andreas Rivera contributed to this report.