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God & Grit Go to the Mats

Woman in black sweatshirt stands smiling next to the beach near Stebbins

“I’m still freaking out,” says 16-year-old Joycelyn Katcheak. “It’s been my dream to do this since I was a kid, and it’s finally happening. I still can’t believe it.”

Katcheak is the first Bering Strait School District student to receive a four-year college scholarship for wrestling. She will travel this fall to the University of Jamestown in North Dakota: 2,617 miles from her home village of Stebbins.

Joy made it to this year’s state wrestling championships as a “wild card” competitor. In recent years, she’s been struggling with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that can cause acute joint pain. Sometimes, it hurt even to get out of bed. Nonetheless, her mother, Marlene, encouraged her to keep a faithful, positive outlook.

In March, Joy’s doctor told her the disease was in remission, effectively gone. “Never in her history of practicing medicine had she seen Joycelyn’s autoimmune disease reverse itself to the point where it doesn’t exist,” Marlene recalls.

Joy has developed a keen sense of courage — and of humility. “Wrestling is a sport you have to be mentally strong in before you’re physically strong… If you’re scared, you might as well lay on your back and call it a pin,” she says. “I learned it early on: when I was younger, my parents used to tell me before almost every match that my fear has to stay on the bleachers, and once I get on the mat, my fear has to be all gone. Otherwise, I‘m not gonna be wrestling in best shape. The most challenging part of facing an opponent is… facing yourself first, because you have to come to accept yourself and not be defeated by fear, before you’re able to become successful on the mat.” When she finds herself struggling, she says she reminds herself how far she’s come and how much she’s practiced — “to not let all that go to waste.” She adds, “Nothing comes from doing nothing; you’ve got to work for what you want.”

Joy knows, too, that she’ll be carrying with her the love, support, and hopes of so many in Stebbins when she goes to college this fall. She knows she’s seen as a role model. “I’m going to stick through it and try to become successful in college wrestling for them — because they were some of the people that helped me get as far as I am today.”

Image at top: Joycelyn Katcheak, at home in Stebbins. Photo: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.

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Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.