Losing is never easy, but absorbing defeat after defeat in wrestling, an individual and physical sport, can be one of the most deflating and discouraging tasks of all.
That's what makes the story of Nikiski senior Joshua Meeks so impressive.
Throughout his wrestling career, Meeks has been sandwiched in Nikiski's lineup between top-notch Bulldogs wrestlers like Chris Roofe and Shawn Corn.
Joshua MeeksOn the mat
As a junior, finished fifth at the Class1-2-3A state meet at 152 lbs.
As a senior, has a 31-4 record after finishing second at the Area 3 Wrestling Championships.
Off the mat
Gets A's and B's in the classroom
That meant, for at least the first two years of his high school career, Meeks was doing a lot of what he calls "swimming on my back" or what former coach Steve Gillaspie calls "counting lights."
"He never complained," said Gillaspie, who coached Meeks his freshman through junior years. "His freshman year, it seemed like he was always going out to wrestle a two-time state champion.
"It was brutal, but he came out of it in one piece. Give him credit for sticking with it."
It helped that family was always there to support Meeks at his matches. His mother and father, Robert and Kathleen Meeks, would attend the matches, as would Meeks' grandmother, Grannie Reid, who is now deceased.
"She was his biggest cheerleader," Kathleen said. "She was always there."
In the past two years, things have turned around for Meeks. Last year, he finished fifth at the Class1-2-3A state tournament at 152 pounds.
This year, he has continued the string of success. Meeks made it to the championship round of the Area 3 Wrestling Championships Saturday in Anchorage before losing a 5-2 decision to Duane Dosser of Kenny Lake.
Nikiski's Joshua Meeks sends Soldotna's Jared Carlson to the mat during a match earlier this season.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Despite the loss, Meeks still qualified for this weekend's state tournament at Kenai Central High School. He has a 31-4 record and is ranked third in the state at 152 pounds.
"I've gotten better by just wrestling the guys in our room," said Meeks, who was wrestling freestyle by the time he was 5 years old. "I think it helps having that competition.
"What's in your room determines how good you are going to be."
Wrestling isn't the only area where Meeks had to make sacrifices. Meeks had played football for Nikiski, but this year he couldn't join the Bulldogs for their state championship run.
He was working at a cannery to help his family with finances while his father attended college in Texas.
"At first it was tough, but it didn't take me that long to accept it," said Meeks, who was in the stands when the Bulldogs defeated Soldotna for the state title.
Meeks may have been able to take the sacrifice in stride because of examples set for him by his parents. For instance, Kathleen is in the Lower 48 right now after donating a kidney to an uncle.
"He never was one to feel sorry for himself," Kathleen said. "He went with the flow.
"He's very mature for his age. We're really pleased with how he's become a young man."
Meeks said working at the cannery was actually kind of fun. This summer, he put in 98- to 99-hour weeks, with a high of 106 hours, driving a forklift.
"I learned a lot," Meeks said. "I worked with some interesting people.
"There was a teacher working there from Anchorage who was just working there for fun. He would always try to trick me with words and it really helped me with my vocabulary."
Meeks also made sure that not playing football would not hurt him when wrestling season rolled around.
He joined the cross country team late in the season in order to start trimming down from 169 pounds to his present weight of 152.
Meeks also started lifting weights with coach David Martian in August.
"That, again, goes back to his work ethic," Martian said. "He could have sat around whining about (not playing football). Instead, he didn't make a big deal out of it. He took care of business."
Martian said the preseason workouts have made Meeks resilient in the face of the rigors of a wrestling season. He hasn't missed a practice yet this year.
"As we've gotten to the tough part of the season, a lot of athletes have had their heads down and have been ready to skip out on things," Martian said. "He's ready to go."
Meeks also gets A's and B's in the classroom. He said his parents used to have to hound him to keep his grades up, but in high school he began to realize the importance of classroom achievement.
"He's always telling me, 'Mom, I'm more worried about my grades than you are,'" Kathleen said.
Martian said one of the most impressive things about working out with Meeks before the season was that he didn't want to just talk wrestling.
"He's really curious about college and life after high school," Martian said. "He's planning his future during his senior year.
"A lot of seniors don't worry about it until the time comes."
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