Friends, families and teammates call 14-year-old Luke Fazekas “Luke the Warrior.” It’s a fitting moniker that describes his success as a nationally-ranked taekwondo athlete, but Luke earned the nickname while fighting and beating cancer as a young child.
Luke’s mother Sue said when Luke was 4 years old he began to experience terrible stomachaches. After being sent home from the doctor a first time with medicine that didn’t help, they returned to the doctor who prescribed something for acid reflux.
As she left the doctor’s office, Mrs. Fazekas asked if Luke’s immense pain could be coming from a burst appendix, as her husband Todd nearly died from an appendix burst. The doctor recommended a scan to see if Luke’s appendix was the problem, and instead the scan revealed a 10 centimeter mass in Luke’s colon, eventually determined to be Burkitt lymphoma.
“If I would’ve walked out and waited another 24 or 48 hours, Burkitt lymphoma doubles every 24 hours, so it would’ve surely taken over his colon and maybe even killed him,” Mrs. Fazekas said. “The fact that I threw that story out there could have saved his life. That was our first little miracle.”
Luke was immediately rushed to University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and had emergency surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Intensive chemo therapy followed for the next six months, and a final CAT scan revealed Luke was cancer free. He still has yearly scans but has been cancer free for nearly a decade.
“A lot of kids don’t get diagnosed (with Burkitt lymphoma) till their autopsy because it’s so fast growing, and if they do get diagnosed, sometimes they don’t make it through the chemo because it’s so rough,” Mrs. Fazekas said. “We have just had miracle after miracle with this. It was very evident God was with us through the whole thing.”
Luke said he only remembers bits and pieces of his battle with cancer since he was so young, but he does remember wanting to join taekwondo when he was 6 as he was still recovering from the aggressive chemo treatments.
“After my treatment I was weak for a few years. I couldn’t do any team sports, and taekwondo was something I could do at my own pace,” he said. “My brother started and then I just kept up with him.”
In just two years, Luke earned his black belt, a pretty fast progression in taekwondo. It’s a sort of Fazekas family trait, as Mrs. Fazekas, Luke, his older brothers Zach, 18, and Max, 16, and his younger sister Isabella, 12, are all taekwondo black belts.
“It’s kind of funny it’s like his competitive nature was not going to let his brothers pass him up,” Mrs. Fazekas said. “He kept up with them.”
As he continued to train and grow in the sport, Luke became more active in sparring competitions. He and Isabella now both participate in national competitions.
“At first it was kind of just a hobby. Then as I started getting more into it, I realized how much I liked it and how much I liked competing. I just fell in love with the sport,” he said.
“It’s kind of funny; he always makes friends with his competitors,” Mrs. Fazekas said. “He’ll beat them and then I’ll see them later and he’s running off with them and goofing around and he gets their info and is Snapchatting them the next day. You’re taught the respect and that’s the sport, the martial arts. It’s kind of cool.”
Mrs. Fazekas said Luke first trained at World Champion Taekwondo in Solon, but he and Isabella now do most of their training at NexGen Taekwondo in Mansfield, one of the best taekwondo competition teams in the nation. The brother and sister duo used to spar in their basement before joining NexGen, Mrs. Fazekas said.
“We usually train six days a week, two to four hours a day and then on weekends we train six to nine hours, and then holiday breaks and summer breaks we train a lot,” Luke said. “(Isabella and I are) both super competitive, so we’re both competing against each other a little bit. It’s friendly competition. It’s fun.”
Mrs. Fazekas said it’s quite the drive from their home in Chagrin Falls to Mansfield several times a week, but because Luke is homeschooled he will sometimes stay over at his coach Chris Hershberger’s house which cuts down some of the driving time.
Recently, Luke and Isabella both competed in the U.S. Open Taekwondo Championships in Las Vegas, one of the largest taekwondo competitions in the world that features more than 2600 competitors from 80 different countries.
Luke took home gold at the U.S. Open in the male cadet black belt -57 kilogram division, and he is ranked seventh in the nation in that division according to USA Taekwondo. Isabella took silver in the 12-14 -33 kilogram female division.
As he continues to train and compete, Luke said his goal is to make the U.S. National Taekwondo team this year, but he has bigger goals in mind as well.
“My goal is to compete in the 2024 Olympics,” he said. “For this year, it’s the U.S. National Team, but after that hopefully the Olympics.”
Mrs. Fazekas said it is unbelievable to watch her son who fought for his life as a young boy now excelling at the highest levels of competition in his sport.
“He’s not only healthy but thriving and one of the top in the nation,” she said. “It’s hard to really wrap your head around.”
Luke won gold again this past weekend at the Dutch Open in Eindhoven, Netherlands..