WHITING | Petr Koukal's comeback from testicular cancer is not the most famous among athletes, but it may end up having the greater shelf life.
"I was lucky to have it diagnosed several stages earlier from when they diagnosed (defrocked Tour de France multiple champion) Lance Armstrong," said Koukal, a five-time Czech Republic national badminton champion and two-time Olympian.
"But it was still very scary," Koukal said. "I went in (for another ailment) and that's they told me about the cancer. They also told me I needed to be operated that same day."
Koukal had represented the Czech Republic at the 2008 Beijing Games. He didn't medal, but he subsequently moved up the professional badminton ranks dominated by Asian players.
"I was beating players ranked Top 10 in the world, but then (in 2010) I got the cancer," Koukal said. "I was hoping to come back to the level I was before, but the first thing on my mind at that point was to live and not die."
Koukal managed to survive the ordeal, but the chemotherapy treatments were physically draining and knocked him down several tiers in his sport. Nonetheless, he managed to pull himself up to qualify for the 2012 London Games.
He was chosen as his country's flag bearing for the opening ceremonies.
"I guess they thought I could serve at motivation for other athletes," said the 27-year-old Koukal, who hopes to become a three-time Olympian.
On July 5 at the Whiting Community Center, Koukal helped lead his Indiana Racquets team to a 5-4 victory over the Seattle Smash in the opening match of the National Badminton League.
Koukal and multiple international champion Christian Lind Thomsen from Denmark clinched the win with a doubles men's victory in the eighth match.
Earlier, Koukal got the Racquets off to good start with an opening 15-13 men's singles win over three-time Dutch national champion Eric Pang after Pang took an 8-3 lead.
Other Indiana Racquets players contributing to the dual match win included 2012 Olympian Sabrina Jaquet from Switzerland, and Chicago Open Champion Tahtat Pojanakanokporn from Chicago,
Other players representing the Seattle Smash were Finnish champion Joachim Persson, French national women's champion Perrine Labuhanic and five-time Maldovian national champion Alexandr Nagornov.
The following Sunday in Walnut, California, the Indiana Racquets defeated the Los Angeles Strings 6-3 in their second and final match of the league "season."
The NBL is a three-team league founded in 2010 by Andrean and Purdue University Calumet tennis coach Donn Gobbie. It caters to international players coming to the United States to participate in the New York Open held June 29-30 in Queens, and the U.S. Open held July 8-12 in Orange, Calif.
This was the first time an NBL match was held at the Whiting Community Center as players had to deal with a relatively low ceiling (about 25 feet) and sunlight beaming through glass-block windows on one side of the gym.
"We tried covering them up, but we couldn't get (the black plastic coverings) to stay up," Gobbie said. "That's why we had the teams switched sides after five matches. Normally in badminton you never switch sides."