Joshua Speck
Cerritos kindergartener Joshua Speck, 6, was recently named Grand Canyon State Games' Male Athlete of the Year. Joshua said he has been taking karate lessons from the Pecos Community Center since he was 3, and enjoys the intricate martial arts moves. Nov. 24, 2010 Brian Johnson/AFN

Joshua Speck has overcome significant challenges to his health.

Born three months premature at just 1 pound 9 ounces, the 6-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident is still dealing with some health issues, but these challenges have not stopped him from taking on the physically and mentally tough martial art form of karate.

Speck realized how far he has come when he was named Male Athlete of the Year at the 2010 Grand Canyon State Games.

More than 30,000 athletes competed at this year's event. Speck earned a bronze medal in the beginner group, ages 5 to 7, for kata performance. He was nominated by his instructors for the Power Player award for exemplifying the six pillars of character: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship. By being nominated, Speck qualified for Athlete of the Year and took home the award at a banquet on Nov. 19 at the Doubletree Suites in Phoenix.

"I just felt very happy and very surprised," he said.

His mother, Julieann Speck, believes he was chosen for the award because of the obstacles he has overcome. Speck has dealt with digestive issues since birth and still uses a feeding tube.

"He's very dedicated and very disciplined, and I think he really had an impact on his karate instructors," she said. "He has faced significant medical challenges in his life and karate has helped him in a variety of ways."

Speck has been doing karate since he was 3. He owns a yellow belt and helps out beginning students in his karate classes at Pecos Community Center.

"I like that you get to learn all different kinds of defenses, and you learn how to protect yourself from bad things happening," Speck said. "So I can protect my mom and my dad and my little brother."

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