Makayla Welch is used to traveling a challenging road.

And that “challenging road” goes well beyond driving to school at King University — that’s a 17-hour car ride away in Bristol, Tennessee.

“I love a good challenge,” said the Cambridge-Isanti graduate, who is a sophomore on the King women’s wrestling team. “I love it when people tell me I can’t do something, and I prove them wrong. That’s such a great feeling.”

Welch was a five-time Minnesota Girls High School State Wrestling Tournament champion who earned the inaugural Ms. Minnesota Wrestling Award in 2018. As a freshman at King last year, she posted an 18-7 record at 116 pounds, but she fell one match short of earning All-America honors.

“I got upset in the first round [of the tournament], and it was a very winnable match, so I was really upset,” Welch explained. “I battled back and won my next three matches in a row, but in the ‘blood’ round I ended up losing, and that was heartbreaking.”

What made that setback more difficult to accept was that a month before nationals, her brother, Jared Wiener, passed away.

“I went home and dealt with it, but I knew I had to keep training, so I used wrestling as a way to deal with the loss,” she said. “Then I only had a few weeks to train; plus, when I stepped into the [practice] room, I couldn’t stop from thinking about a lot of different things.”

Welch admitted that she is still dealing with Jared’s death.

“It’s always sitting there, and it’s always a factor in everything that I do,” she said. “I try to use it as a driving force, but it can hold me back. I try to not let that happen.”

This season Welch has moved to 123 pounds, which has presented a new challenge: She is competing for time on the mat with two of King’s strongest wrestlers, Cheyenne Sisenstein and Phoenix Dubose. Welch is 10-3 this season with three pins and three technical falls, but two of her three losses are to Dubose.

“I’ve won a lot of matches, but I’ve learned some things in the matches that I’ve lost that I can work on, so that’s good, too,” Welch said. “That will help challenge me and help me work through some things.”

Welch said she sees the competition as a good thing, not bad.

“Phoenix is a great wrestler and a great teammate,” Welch said. “We have a lot of ‘hammers’ on our team, so we have to leave friendships at the door. You have to fight for points.

“When I wrestle Cheyenne, who is my best friend, we can beat each other up. But that’s wrestling; that’s how we’re making each better.”

One challenge that Welch has overcome has been to gain acceptance into the nursing program at King, which she entered this semester.

“It wasn’t easy – it took a lot of work to get into that program,” she said. “In my first entrance exam to the program, I failed by one point. So I had to retake it, but I passed with a super-high score. It was such a relief, because everything that I have worked for was confirmed.”

Welch hopes to become the first wrestler to complete the nursing program at King, which she plans to accomplish in December of her senior year.

“The nursing program is super-tough on its own, and it’s really difficult when you add [competing in] a sport on top of it,” she said. “I’m super-excited to prove to everyone that I can complete both.”

There are still other challenges ahead, including the Women’s National Collegiate Championship in early March, earning a berth in the U.S. Olympic Trials in April, and the Junior/U23 World Team Trails in May. But Welch is taking her challenges one day at a time.

“If [the Olympics] happens, it happens,” Welch said. “I’m often underestimated. I just want to show people that I’m still here.”

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