Collegiate sports challenge athletes physically and mentally with the intention to build character. Sometimes, nature throws a curveball and presents challenges greater than conditioning or scoring the game winning point. Strong character is needed more than anything in the particular case of a student athlete on the Rocky Mountain College women’s basketball team.
For 23-year-old Marissa Van Atta, sports have been a big part of her life, as she was a multiple sport athlete throughout the entirety of her high school career. She spent her first three collegiate basketball seasons playing for MSU-Billings. The 5th year senior signed with RMC with the intention of playing her final year with the Battlin’ Bears. However, her recent diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia changed things for the final stretch of her athletic career.
“The team, the bear community and everyone’s family and friends are all very supportive of Marissa and what she has been diagnosed with” said teammate Mikayla Jones, “From posts all over social media, people are sending their love, thoughts and prayers toward Marissa from all over the states on a daily basis. I think I speak for everyone when I say we all have faith in Marissa that she can and will fight this battle.” She has been in Denver for treatment since September.
Van Atta’s teammates continue to show support throughout their season. Justyn Juhl and Mikayla Jones gave some input on Van Atta and the battle she undergoes.
Q: How did Marissa fit in to the team when she first arrived at Rocky?
Juhl: “All of our returners had all played against her when she played for MSUB last season. She was the hustle player no one wanted to defend because you couldn’t let your guard down. She was well known from high school to college for her amazing athletic ability and we were all very excited to play with her rather than against her.”
Jones: “When I first saw Marissa, we played against each other last year on Halloween. Woah was she a spark player! She came in for MSUB and killed us with her mid range jumpers and fierce domination on the boards. When I found out Marissa was looking into coming to Rocky to play I was excited! I knew my last year at Rocky I wanted to go out with a Bang! And she was the perfect piece to what this team needed! Someone who is long, lengthy, very athletic and talented like herself. From hustling after a loose ball, to grabbing a rebound for a put back and 1, she was unstoppable.”
Q: How was Marissa as an athlete?
Juhl: “She is determined, hardworking and just talented as a whole.”
Jones: “Personally, there are really only three words that describe Marissa and it is a hustle hard athlete. She is the true definition of it. Marissa is the girl who is at the front of the pact. She leads by example on the court by encouraging others to work hard and showing us that no day is promised, to fight and keep fighting because you can get through anything.”
Q: What was going through your mind, and the team’s mind, when you guys got the news of her diagnosis?
Juhl: “Shock. Complete shock. Not one of us had a clue she was fighting for her life.”
Jones: “Lost for words. First thing that ran through my head was ‘Wait what? She does? How? Wasn’t she just at practice beating us during suicide lines?’ It’s crazy to think that Marissa: the girl who was coming in first when when running during practice, the girl who was showing others how to hustle on offense and back on defense, the girl who never asked for a break while scrimmaging, was the one diagnosed with this. It’s scary knowing it could really happen to anyone.”
Q: Do you think her mindset as an athlete will help her in her battle with leukemia? Juhl: “She has always been the type of player that pushed her body to its full capacity. She was always willing to put in the extra work whether it meant putting up extra shots on her own time or going to the weight room for an additional lifting session. I have no doubt she will do the same during her battle with cancer. She is the type of person who won’t leave things up to chance.”
Jones: “Of course! She is gonna treat this cancer like it’s an actual 40 minute game! She has to face 4 tough quarters throughout her treatment and therapies. As long as she keeps faith in herself and her team standing behind her and her main Coach above, she will forsure beat Cancer to win the game!”
Q: What have you heard about her current condition?
Juhl: “She is currently on house arrest and going through rounds of chemo. They are staying positive and hoping she will be stronger by March in time for her birthday.”
Jones: “So far all that I have seen was a post from her on social media the other day a post that read, “New Year, Same me… Determined to stay cancer free”. Its sounds to me like she may already have kicked Cancer’s butt in the fourth quarter!”
While the future of her condition is uncertain as she continues to undergo chemotherapy, the attitude of Marissa and her teammates remain optimistic.