Zoe Babikian is back in full swing on the tennis court after beating cancer

Alex Johnson

In April of 2018, junior Zoe Babikian was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer in the lymphatic system. On Sept. 16, Babikian returned to the tennis court against Drake to compete in her first match since her diagnosis. On top of returning to the court in a matter of months, Babikian is one of the team’s three captains and is dominating MCAL in doubles.

Babikian picked up the sport at four years old, when her parents encouraged her to start playing with them.

“My parents made me play when I wasn’t very good, and then once I started to get better and better, I liked it more.” Babikian said.

During her time at Redwood, Babikian has never been on a tennis team that has taken home an MCAL banner, but she has been one of the most reliable doubles players in the county since her freshman year. Getting close her first two years on the team, Babikian has embarked on her third campaign alongside a young, talented group of players hoping to make it to the playoffs despite a rocky start on and off the court. On the court, the team has lost key games to rivals like Tam and Branson due to inexperience playing singles at the high school level. The team graduated many skillful seniors last year. Filling in for them have been a group a freshman who show promise for the coming years, but haven’t performed this season. Off the court, long before the season started, Babikian was informed of the cancer in her lymph nodes.

After she got word of the illness, Babikian’s time on the court was stunted for two months due to intensive chemotherapy. This treatment made her feel nauseous and weak for at least five days after each of her 12 treatments, keeping her from playing tennis. However, Babikian always made an effort to play tennis with her dad or with friends whenever she had the energy. Her perseverance and drive allowed her to rejoin the team as soon as they started training over the summer.

“It’s better than sitting at home in bed, so I say it’s better to be out on the court,” Babikian said.

Awaiting a return from her oponent, Babikian grins at the tennis ball
Awaiting a return from her oponent, Babikian grins at the tennis ball

Another motivational factor for Babikian was the fact that she is a captain on this year’s team, and feels obligated to be there for her teammates. She was elected captain when first-year head coach, Charles Fager, was inspired by her drive and passion for the sport, which she presented at a preseason meeting prior to her diagnosis. Ever since Babikian called Fager during the summer to inform him of her condition, Fager says that the two have developed a very close relationship. Fager noted that what she went through to get back to the court has inspired the entire team.

“She always had this positive attitude, and it was such an inspiration to watch someone go through something like this who’s looking at the positive side. If you have a down day, you have to look at the bright side of things and fight through it,” Fager said.

One of Babikian’s teammates inspired by her willpower is junior Sarah Fraschetti, Babikian’s occasional doubles partner. Fraschetti says that although Babikian would be in-and- out of practices, when she was there, she would bring intensity and competitiveness that consistently boosted everyone’s level of play. In contrast, Fraschetti says Babikian is the polar opposite off the court.

“[Babikian] is a super great friend; she’s always there for you. It doesn’t match the way she acts on the court…she’s this sweet, amazing friend,” Fraschetti said.

Just like Fager, the rest of the team uses Babikian’s comeback story as motivation to work hard, according to Fraschetti.

“We are all really inspired by what she got through… it encourages us to be really grateful for our health. But Zoe doesn’t like the pity, she just wants to have a normal day and we all respect that,” Fraschetti said.

Babikian is back in full swing on the court, looking to gain back stamina and focus on her main goal:

“Just having fun,” Babikian said.

The varsity girls’ tennis team is closing out the regular season, and will play their final two matches against San Rafael on Oct. 19 and Marin Catholic on Oct. 22.