Meet KaMele Sanchez: Elite athlete wrestles with environmental challenges
By Heather Bradley
She is a force.
She’s always been most comfortable outside, sweating, and getting stuff done. Passion for nature and love for family drive KaMele Sanchez. Growing up on the Big Island of Hawai`i shaped her and inspired her to pursue an education in natural resources that she can take back to her island and the people she loves.
“Knowing that I am part native Hawaiian and being in tune with that culture and that environment was very important to me growing up,” said Sanchez.
She is an accomplished athlete, the first woman wrestler at Colorado State University, and has earned two All American titles. She’s also wrestling with the environmental challenges of our time and looking to pin down solutions to them through her studies in Ecosystem Science and Sustainability in Warner College of Natural Resources.
Preserving the land
Sanchez grew up as the eldest of four rough and tough girls, she’ll tell you. In high school, she worked with multiple conservation organizations, including the Kohala Watershed Partnership. She worked hard in the lush lands of Hawai`i identifying and eradicating invasive species, building fences, and educating youth and volunteers about Hawai`i’s fragile ecosystem. Preserving the land and plants that were once her Hawaiian ancestors’ was exceptionally rewarding and meaningful for her.
Sustainability continues to be a major driver in Sanchez’s life. She works with the department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management and the Weed Science Lab. Passion that started on the verdant islands of Hawai`i has taken her to the dramatic wilderness of the Rocky Mountains.
Sanchez has found a home away from home here in Colorado. That connection is, in part, due to her wrestling team.
“It was the first sport I had ever done and it was incredibly hard, but then I started winning,” she said.
Once she started wrestling she didn’t want to stop. With the camaraderie of the team and the joy of being successful, continuing to wrestle was an easy choice. Now, she’s the president of the wrestling team in addition to her numerous titles.
“She kind of holds everybody together in a lot of ways,” said Kendall DeJonge, one of her wrestling coaches, “The students trust her.”
Driven by commitment to others
When she won her first All-American title in 2016, she felt like there was too much of a spotlight on her and she wanted the focus to be on her team. This year was different, especially with all the time she and her team had dedicated to it.
“This time I felt like I deserved to be there and the fact that we were all succeeding together felt good,” she said. “It feels good to win. Your work has paid off.”
Being both a Warner College student and a CSU athlete is no small feat, but Sanchez sees it as an opportunity to succeed.
When it comes down to it, Sanchez is driven by her love and commitment to others.
“She likes to do things the right way, whether they are popular or unpopular,” said wrestling coach Barry Bernstein. “She holds herself to a very high standard. She’s really brought her team up with her.”