Natasha Trujillo stood on stage in Northern New Mexico College's auditorium last January in front of a large crowd of fellow students and parents. The Mesa Vista Middle School eighth-grader looked across at Alcalde Elementary sixth-grader Jose Estrada.
They were competing for the Rio Arriba County Spelling Bee title. Thirty-three other students had been eliminated in previous rounds.
When Estrada slipped on "rhythmic", Trujillo deftly corrected the letters and then went on to spell "miscellaneous" to win the County title.
Trujillo remembers the win and the subsequent trip to the state finals fondly.
"It was stressful, but I got to meet a bunch of other kids that were interested in the same thing I was," Trujillo said.
Now a freshman in high school, Trujillo is no longer eligible to participate in the bee. In lieu of spelling, she now occupies her time with the Future Farmers of America and 4-H — activities perfectly suited to an aspiring veterinarian.
Her advice to spelling bee participants is simple.
"Read as much as you can," Trujillo said. "Read everything you can get your hands on."
Trujillo said she first fell in love with reading after discovering the Harry Potter series. She said she also used a computer spelling game called Bookworm to help her prepare.
"The way I spell a word is I hear it, and I sound it out and I spell it," Trujillo said as she tapped her thigh with her hand as if counting out syllables.
Trujillo said she enjoys public speaking and so did not have a problem standing in front of the crowded auditorium. But she said the experience of publicly misspelling a word was one of the best lessons.
"Once you hear a word and you spell it and you get it wrong, you will never forget it," Trujillo said. "You're on your guard from then on."