'I told him I would keep fighting,' Former U of R wrestler fulfils promise to dying father

When Jacob Luczak competed at the 2018 Wrestling World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, he was also making good on a promise to his dying father.

The former University of Regina wrestler had left the sport after a concussion, but two years later a tragedy gave him the push he needed get back into it.

His father Jacek was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Luczak moved back home to Thunder Bay, Ontario and enrolled in the wrestling program at Lakehead University.

"I had a sobering thought that I'm going to be in my father's place one day, whether it's an illness or old age, or anything, everyone's life comes to an end. I want to look back on my life and know that I really went for it," said Luczak.

His father's condition got worse each week. The cancer was past the point it could be operated on. Luczak knew his father was going to die.

The day before his father's death, Luczak brought in the singlet he wore when he competed for Canada at the Junior Pan-American Championships in Chile. 

(Wrestling Canada Lutte/Martin Gabor)

The singlet was a few years old. The letters were peeling off and it was beginning to rip at the seams.

"I had his last name, my last name, on the wrestling singlet that had Canada on it," said Luczak.

It was a proud moment for Jacek, who had left Poland to make a better life for his family in Canada.

Luczak said he told his father, "I'm going to earn another one of these for you dad. This isn't the last time. Don't worry, I'm going to keep moving forward with life." 

He told his father he could rest easy. Jacek had suffered strokes but wanted to continue radiation.

"It was really hard to have to tell your father that he fought really valiantly but it wasn't enough. It made me really proud of him and I told him I would keep fighting in his example," said Luczak.

"Something came over me, and I said, 'Dad, I'm going to the world championships, are you coming with me?"

His father gave him a look of certainty. He died the next day.

"This was kind of the final push that really affirmed that this is what I want to be doing ," Luczak said. "It was something that I needed to be doing to kind of have a mental release, to fuel myself through the experience psychologically."

Second-place chance

A teammate encouraged Luczak to try out for Team Canada. A month later he competed at the Canadian world team trials in the 92 kg weight class.

He came in second, just short of his goal.

"Obviously, it sucks to lose, but I wasn't upset about it. It motivated me to improve," said Luczak.

He was ready to do whatever he could to prepare for next year, but a few months later he received an email.

The first-place finisher had declined to compete at the world championships and Luczak was offered his spot.

He only had about 60 days to train for the competition. He hired a personal trainer and started hitting the at least once a day.

Keeping his promise

Luczak earned Canada's first victory at the World Wrestling Championship in Budapest, beating an Austrian competitor 12-6.

"I truly believe my father was with me or within me," said Luczak.

His mother and aunt were in the crowd cheering him on and waving a Canadian flag.

Even after that victory, Luczak was feeling anxious. He was having trouble falling asleep, so he pulled out his phone, and played a recording labelled 'Dad.'

It was two minute recording of his father's laboured breathing the day he died.

"My breathing started to mimic his, and it started to calm me down," said Luczak.

"I wasn't thinking about wrestling anymore and I could get to sleep."

Luczak's progress through the competition was cut short after a loss against a Moldovan wrestler.

Even though he didn't stand on the podium, Luczak was able to pay tribute to his father by winning in a city that has a special meaning to his parents. 

"Budapest is actually where my parents had their honeymoon, 36 years ago I believe," said Luczak​.

"I just believe it was all meant to happen."