A Survival Story: Luke Fazekas’ inspiring journey

Local athlete overcame cancer, odds

WOIO M-F 530-6p Recurring - VOD - clipped version for tony's story

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Luke Fazekas has the face and the focus of a champion. A second-degree black belt with nerves of steel that were honed outside the ring at a very early age.

It may be a miracle that he’s even here.

At the age of four, Fazekas suffered from severe abdominal pain. His mother was thinking appendicitis. Tests revealed something far more serious.

“He had the fastest growing cancer”, Luke’s mother Sue Fazekas said. “Most of the kids get diagnosed in their autopsy because it doesn’t get discovered.”

Burkitt Lymphoma.

“It grows very quickly”, said Dr. Rachel Egler of University Hospitals. “It has a doubling time of 25 hours, meaning it doubles once a day.”

But doctors caught it early, so there was hope.

“It grows quickly, but it also dies quickly”, said Egler. “It’s very susceptible to chemotherapy.”

Six months of intense chemo, during which Luke’s fighting spirit first appeared.

“They had an art therapist come in, and he (Fazekas) drew a picture of a boat, and him walking on the water and a big storm coming”, Sue recalls. “The therapist was like ‘this is interesting, what does this mean?’, and Luke said ‘that’s me, I’m walking on the water and there’s a big storm coming."

He’s 4 years old, and the therapist asked what’s going to happen?" Luke said, ‘Oh, don’t worry, I’m just gonna walk right through it’. That’s Luke, right there.”

Ten years later, he’s one of the top Taekwondo athletes of his age group...in the world. A sport he started because he was in recovery...and could go at his own pace.

“When I first started competing, when I was 8 years old, I just loved the competitive aspect and I was hooked”, Luke remembered.

Luke’s taekwondo instructor, Chris Hershberger, noticed that competitive spirit immediately.

“I knew there was something special about him because he was one of the few athletes that would treat every workout like it was his last”, Hershberger says. “I didn’t know about his background, what he went through as a child, but when I found out, it clicked, like ‘wow’, that makes sense.”

Hershberger has been in this game for three decades. He’s sent more than a few athletes to the U.S. National Team, but he’s still looking for his first Olympian.

He may just have him, right here.

“I really want to make the U.S. National Team and hopefully the Olympics”, Luke said. “Gotta keep pushing.”

And keep measuring himself against the best of the rest, as he did recently at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas, the biggest tournament of the year, where Luke took home the Gold. He told me that tournaments like this are nerve wracking, but you’d never know it, watching him compete.

“If you have confidence, that’s the absence of doubt, and if you have doubt, that’s the absence of confidence," Hershberger said. “What Luke has, like many others don’t, is he can go in there and stay really cool and calm, and that’s a confidence that you can’t teach.”

“I get so many compliments from the coaches”, Sue said. “Things like ‘I’ve never seen that calmness in the ring’”.

What about Sue? Is she calm?

“No, not even a little”, she said with a laugh.

But even the toughest, most aggressive opponent in the ring will never be as tough, or aggressive as the opponent he beat at an early age.

The battle that made Luke Fazekas who he is today.

“I feel like through cancer, God taught me I can get through anything.”

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