“I thought, ‘Oh, this looks fun,’ ” he said. However, he doesn’t have the opportunity to speak the language very often. “[There] aren’t many people in day-to-day life that speak [Finnish].”
It would seem that Mark simply has a knack for learning new things. When asked if any school subjects were difficult for him, he responded, “Not really. I like most subjects in school.”
‘A voracious reader’
Mark’s father, Bruce Kivimaki, said he and his wife didn’t have an active role in pushing Mark toward spelling.
“I think it comes from the fact that he’s a voracious reader,” Bruce Kivimaki said, noting that Mark reads a great deal more than what most kids his age read. “So many words, so much language.”
Some of Mark’s favorites include nonfiction works and fantasy novels, he said. He also has an interest in magazines like National Geographic, online articles and podcasts. He and his 15-year-old brother, Peter, read a print newspaper daily and the New York Times each Sunday.
What’s his favorite book?
“I’ve read so many books,” he said. “I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite.”
Mary Kivimaki, a product developer, and Bruce Kivimaki, a ninth-grade science teacher, are readers too, but not nearly as avid as Mark, they said. Mark’s involvement in the bee helped them to become more in tune with words, they said.
“I kind of started noticing words more,” Mary Kivimaki said. “It just heightens your awareness. … [We] say, ‘Oh, that could be a spelling bee [word].’ All of a sudden, words just became front and center.”
Mark, who also plays the piano and the trombone and enjoys cross-country running and track and field, has ambitions to have a career in science or engineering.
‘One word, and that’s it’
For now though, his sights are set on the National Spelling Bee in 2015. His goal is to make it to the finals.
“Now that he’s been there [the National Spelling Bee], he would love to have that experience again,” Mary Kivimaki said. But he “has to jump through all those hoops again. It’s one word, and that’s it. Miss one word, and it’s over.”
She estimated that Mark stood on stage and spelled 15 words correctly through the rounds of the bee, missing that 16th word.
Whatever he wants to do, he can count on his parents standing behind him.
Bruce Kivimaki’s hope is the same thing many parents wish for: “They grow up, they’re happy, they do what they want to do with their life. Wherever his interest takes him, we will be supportive.”
Mary Kivimaki hopes that he keeps his passion for learning.