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BADMINTON/'I made it through': Chou Tien-chen conquers cancer on way to title

02/05/2024 08:48 PM
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Taiwanese badminton player Chou Tien-chen clinches his fists in victory after a match at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, on Oct. 3, 2023
Taiwanese badminton player Chou Tien-chen clinches his fists in victory after a match at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, on Oct. 3, 2023

Taipei, Feb. 5 (CNA) Chou Tien-chen (周天成) had a poor year by his standards in 2023, so his joyous celebration after winning the men's singles title Sunday at the Thailand Masters, an event a top 10 player like him would not usually enter, was anything but a surprise.

After closing out his 62-minute, 21-16, 6-21, 21-16 title win against Singapore's Loh Kean Yew (駱建佑) with a smash, Chou lay on the court, covered his face with his left hand while panting, and then let out a yell that was nearly drowned out by spectators' cheers.

"He's indeed savoring the moment," ELTA TV commentator Tsai Hui-min (蔡慧敏) said. "It was so challenging to win the match after having to manage his stamina and change his tactics the way he did today."

A quick shot of Chou's physiotherapist, Kao Min-shan (高敏珊), praying at courtside after the win, however, suggested that something more was going on.

In a post-match interview with CNA, the 34-year-old Chou revealed the real reason the victory in a Super 300 tour event meant so much: he was diagnosed with early stage colorectal cancer in 2023, and the aftermath of the ordeal made it a challenge to continue competing at the highest level.

Just getting a physical

During a break at the beginning of 2023, Chou realized he had not had a full physical for two or three years, so he decided to have one done.

To his surprise, he was diagnosed with early stage colorectal cancer after undergoing a colonoscopy, and soon had an operation to remove the cancerous part of his colon.

"Actually, the other doctor I saw then thought the cancer was not bad and told me to have a follow-up appointment a year later. But that didn't make sense to me, so I decided to do the operation," Chou recalled.

To prevent the cancer from spreading, the doctor cut more of Chou's large intestine than usual and had to use a clip that can be absorbed by human body to help the internal wound heal.

"Perhaps it was because I did enough good deeds so I could witness the Lord's glory, or perhaps what I did was not enough so the Lord let me find it out earlier so as to live a bit longer and do more," said Chou, a pious Christian, of his cancer, able to joke about himself in hindsight.

Chou was baptized in 2012 at Kao's suggestion after undergoing a slump, according to Christian Daily.

Taiwanese badminton player Chou Tien-chen plays in a round of 16 match at the Taipei Open on June 22, 2023. He failed to defend his title won in 2022 after losing the match. CNa file photo
Taiwanese badminton player Chou Tien-chen plays in a round of 16 match at the Taipei Open on June 22, 2023. He failed to defend his title won in 2022 after losing the match. CNa file photo

The day after Chou was operated on, he got on a plane to continue competing overseas. Though the ordeal did not have much of an impact on his normal training routine, his diet had to be controlled, and it took him time to recover from the shock of simply getting cancer.

After all, Chou had maintained a strict training regimen, lived a disciplined daily life, and had a healthy diet, and had never thought he would come down with the disease.

Not surprisingly, in competitive terms, 2023 was not much of a success for him. In his 28 tournaments played, he made it to the semifinals or better only three times, and never made it farther than the round of 16 in the others.

It was not until another lower tier Super 300 tour event, the Hylo Open in Saarbrücken, Germany, in early November 2023, that he won his only title of the year.

That dip in form saw Chou's world ranking plunge from No. 5 to No. 14 during the course of the year.

"I think there are only very limited things we can do. [But] I kept telling myself that I had made it through this way before when I had not won a title, and I have made it through the cancer operation, so there is no way I can't make it through the skid this time."

After winning the Hylo Open, Chou talked about his mental journey against cancer in public for the first time at a church activity the same month. Now he thinks it is time to let more people know about it.

"I realize that nothing I have now should be taken for granted, nor should I feel smug because everything is earned through perseverance," Chou said.

"I hope I can encourage myself and inspire others, letting them know they are definitely able to find a way out no matter what setback or accident they are confronted with."

Chou is set to return to Taiwan for the Lunar New Year break on Monday before heading to Europe on Feb. 27 to play in five tournaments there.

(By Li Chien-chung and Chao Yen-hsiang)

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