North Side woman runs with the wolves
2018 Ursuline grad shares passions for martial arts, wildlife management
YOUNGSTOWN — You shouldn’t mess with Katharine Repetski.
She counts several gray wolves and red foxes among her friends and also is a fourth-degree black belt in taekwondo.
Repetski, 21, who has lived on the city’s North Side all her life, will graduate in December from Youngstown State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences, with a minor in chemistry and a certificate in forensic science.
She attended St. Rose School in Girard and is a 2018 graduate of Ursuline High School, where she was co-valedictorian. She played alto and tenor saxophone from fourth grade until she finished high school. She also played soccer at Ursuline and competed in the annual Ocean Bowl, a competition in ocean sciences.
She is the daughter of Michael Repetski, who retired from the YSU electronics maintenance department several years ago, and Denise Walters Dobson, who works as an academic adviser in YSU’s STEM College. She is an active parishioner at St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown, where she started as an altar server in fourth grade and is now also a Eucharistic minister.
One of her passions is martial arts. Repetski started taking karate when she was 10 after discovering she did not like the ballet classes her mother enrolled her in when she was younger. She also did not have the competitive drive to continue in gymnastics, she said.
“I had a friend who was taking martial arts, and I also was influenced by television and movies,” Repetski said.
She said it only took her two years to earn her black belt in taekwondo, and she is now a fourth-degree black belt. She also is a second-degree black belt in Chinese kenpo, another form of martial arts.
“Usually, when I join something, I don’t quit,” Repetski said of her 11 years in martial arts. “I like to stay active, and I like the philosophy behind martial arts. It teaches discipline of mind and body, and it is used for protection and self- defense, not for fighting.”
She said the studio where she went for 10 years shut down permanently because of COVID-19 last fall, and the studio where she takes classes now is one where many of her past competitors attend.
“I don’t compete anymore. I never competed to earn titles. I just did it so I could be exposed to different styles and so I could improve my own skills,” Repetski said.
Even so, she has dozens of trophies and medals and has won two national championships in taekwondo.
Her other passion is animals. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in wildlife biology, but has not yet chosen a graduate school. Most of the universities that offer the program are out West and she said she is specifically looking for schools where the professors do field work with wolves and large cats.
Repetski is unsure of her exact career path, but she recently put together a 108-page book about career options she would like to pursue.
“I have such broad interests, and I can’t decide,” she said, noting at one point she considered joining the FBI, which explains her forensic science certificate.
“I am going for a higher education degree for myself even if I am not sure what I want to do. My career eventually will fall into place once my education is done,” she said.
However, her unpaid summer internship at Wolf Park in Battleground, Ind., has helped her define her future a little better. Repetski was supposed to do an internship in Australia the summer of 2020, but the pandemic canceled those plans. She started researching internship opportunities closer to home and originally wanted to do one at an animal rehabilitation facility, but came across Wolf Park while searching the internet.
“I thought it sounded pretty cool, so I applied and got accepted,” Repetski said.
She was one of eight summer interns at the park, and they all stayed at a house on site. Repetski went to Indiana on May 17 and was supposed to return Aug. 15, but she extended her internship by a week because she enjoyed it so much.
“I plan to go back and visit in December and January before I head to graduate school,” she said.
While at Wolf Park, she did a research project on gray-wolf behavior in the wild compared to those in captivity. She made a herd of deer out of cardboard tubes and boxes, papier mache and construction paper and stuffed deer meat inside them.
“The wolves exhibited the same hunting behaviors with the artificial deer as they do in the wild, so I was pleased to see that they don’t lose those natural instincts at the park,” Repetski said.
She wants to work with large animals such as wolves, lions, tigers and other large cats, but at Wolf Park, she worked with six gray wolves, red and gray foxes, bison and rabbits. She said she helped with training, medical checkups and administering medication, as well as gave daily public tours of the facility.
Repetski said the gray wolves she worked with every day like to play, but being cautious is necessary because they are still wild animals and their behavior can be unpredictable. She said the interns all had to take a safety course before they could work with the animals, and a professional trainer was always with them when they were handling their furry friends.
“One of the best experiences I had is when Aspen, one of the dominant gray male wolves, rode in a rowboat with me,” she said.
She said she also had a lot of bonding time with Joker, a silver-faced red fox who was undergoing cancer treatment.
“I can see myself becoming a park ranger or wildlife officer, which would combine my police officer tendencies with my desire to work with wildlife,” Repetski said.
To suggest a Saturday profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at email@example.com or metro editor Marly Reichert at firstname.lastname@example.org.