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May 31, 2017

The National Spelling Bee and Track & Field: a moment of reflection



“Dumb? D-U-M-B. Dumb”

This week marks the 90th iteration of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. For those who aren’t familiar with what that means, it’s the one week out of the year where we pretend as a nation to care about scholastic pursuits and intellectual accomplishments.

I’d say that on the whole, it’s a good thing. Too much attention is given to sports in general, but especially to sports as they pertain to earning college athletic-based financial aid. There are way more academic scholarships out there than there are athletic ones, so any time we’re collectively reminded that brain-based activities are not just personally beneficial, but potentially financially lucrative, that’s a win.

However, with this momentary acknowledgement of brain, instead of just brawn, comes the crippling realization that all of the Bee’s competitors are vastly more intelligent than me.

There is a goddamn six year old in this year’s competition. Six. She is a kindergartner from Oklahoma and she will be appearing on national television spelling polysyllabic, probably obsolete words. I’ve used spell check six times while writing this one paragraph on a track blog.

Because I am a very small person, I have to rationalize how I am in some way superior to these elementary-to-middle-school-aged children. It used to be that I could scoff and just lie to myself: “harummph, these dweebs can’t run 12.5 laps around a track as fast as me, so I’m better!” But now, as my bones have reached peak fragility, I don’t even have that delusion to fall back on.

My time is up, both academically and athletically. I know that for years now I’ve been growing dumber and slower, and neither trend shows any sign of reversing itself. I must cede the floor to the rising stars of spelling, especially given that at least one can probably beat me in a footrace.


“Glory days, well, they’ll pass you by”

Representation of the author’s physical and mental decay



With the correct brand of mental gymnastics, you can dupe yourself into believing that when you were the age of the Bee entrants, you were better than them, by being EXCEPTIONALLY WELL-ROUNDED.

And so a fun thought experiment is to determine when your average running-spelling ability was at its highest (or project when you’ll hit that point).

I reached my athletic peak at 20 and have been on a steady decline ever since. And I probably developed some sort of sub-clinical brain disease in 2008, because since since my 17th birthday because I sure as hell have gotten worse at spelling every year since.

So go ahead and chart your own greatness and subsequent fall from it. You may have a long downward slide ahead of you, but at least you were a solid, well-rounded champion at one point. And all the more power to you if you are still bettering yourself past your late teens.

Be sure to share with us your Spelling-Running Peak!


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