The youngest person ever to qualify for the National Spelling Bee jumped and splashed around in a stream hunting for rocks, tadpoles, and all manner of slimy things.
With a look of impish delight, she came charging up the bank towards her mother.
"Hold on to that basalt," Lori Anne Madison said to her mother in her best bossy 6-year-old's voice, "and do not drop it."
"Go away", her mother, Sorina Madison, said playfully.
Nevertheless, Lori Anne handed her the rock and then charged off to go find some more treasures. As she joined up with her friends, Lori Anne’s quest soon changed from searching for rocks to searching for slugs, snails, tadpoles, water striders, baby snakes and more in the waters at Scotts Run Nature Preserve in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. on that bright, sunny day of May eleventh.
"Oh my gosh, what is it? A water worm! It's alive," said Lori Anne, her shoes soaked from more than an hour of exploring. "I need it in my collection. It's wonderful."
Lori Anne Madison is a wonder-girl. She is blonde and endearing and talks at 100 mph. In the last few weeks she has won major awards in both math and swimming. But there is one accomplishment that stands above the rest and has made her an overnight celebrity: Last Wednesday, the talented girl from Lake Ridge, Va., was onstage with youngsters more than twice her age and size as one of the 278 spellers who qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
When Lori Anne spelled "vaquero" to win the regional bee in Prince William County in March, she set a new standard for youth in the national bee's 87-year history.
"It was shocking," Sorina said. "I didn't expect all the media attention…We’re regular people… [and] it was intimidating. But I'm happy for her. She loves it and she does it because it's a passion…”
Lori Anne’s parents have no need to push her to do anything. She is already way out in front and dragging them along. There are some kids who are ahead of the curve physically, mentally or socially from a very young age. But Lori Anne is a rare exception who defies the norms in every category.
She reached all her milestones early, walking and talking well before others in her age group. She swims four times a week, keeping pace with 10-year-old boys, and wants to someday compete in the Olympics.
“She’s like a teenager in a 6-year-old body,” Sorina explained. “[S]he understands things way ahead of her age.”
Something really amazing, and a great plus for homeschooling was when her mother tried to enroll her in a private school for the gifted, but the headmaster said Lori Anne was just way too smart to accommodate and needed to be homeschooled.
Lori Anne now studies at home, mastering topics other kids her age won't even touch for several years. She wants to be an astrobiologist, a combination of her two favorite subjects, astronomy and biology.
On why she wants to be an astrobiologist: "I'm going to sort of find life forms. And, plus, alien planets are new. But I need some slugs."
By now, the jar Lori Anne was holding contained a diversity of small living things which she had collected with the help of her friends. The children in the group are also very smart and accomplished -- there's a boy who has been studying calculus at age 8 -- but there's still just something noteworthy about being in the bee.
The bee doesn't have a lower age limit, but no one younger than 8 had ever previously qualified for the nationals. Spellers can compete until they're 15, or until they've completed eighth grade.
No one expects Lori Anne to win the national bee this year, just being there is a unique accomplishment. The veteran spellers have very honed, sophisticated study methods, spending hours daily in their attempts to master as much of the unabridged dictionary as possible.
Lori Anne? She likes to study while prancing on her trampoline, with her mother calling out words.
When asked how she thinks she'll do this year, Lori Anne simply answered "great" and kept on hunting.
Above Photo: Chloe Moskowitz, 7, of Vienna, Va., left, and Lori Anne Madison, 6, of Lake Ridge, Va., hunt for tadpoles, with Lori Anne Madison's mother Sorina V. Madison, right, in McLean, Va., on Friday, May 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)