His big hazel eyes wide with anticipation, 10-year-old Marc Krajekian walked excitedly onto the practice courts at the US Open this September. A guest of Paul Annacone, he thought he was heading over to hit a few balls with the longtime coach and commentator. Annacone had something else in mind.
“We were going on the court and we see Roger Federer and that made my day,” Krajekian says, oozing with his trademark enthusiasm. “I just yelled, ‘Oh my gosh!’ to my parents.”
Federer signed gear, took photos and even played a point with Krajekian just hours before he was scheduled to face Philipp Kohlschreiber in his fourth-round match. It was a point—punctuated by a Krajekian lob winner—that neither player will ever forget.
“I think I’m privileged to be in a position where I can make a dream come true for other people,” Federer said afterward.
Krajekian’s journey to that unforgettable moment began in the winter of 2016. An up-and-coming player in his hometown of Charlotte, NC, he hit the court every chance he got, strangers often stopping to admire his technique. When the sport became more than just a hobby, he enrolled in a nearby tennis academy. It was then that pain in his foot led to a diagnosis of Ewing sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer.
“I knew what cancer was,” Krajekian says matter-of-factly. “I knew it was a deadly disease, but I wasn’t that scared about it.”
Soon after his diagnosis, Krajekian and his parents had a heart-wrenching decision to make. Doctors could either amputate his right leg below the knee in an effort to keep the cancer from spreading, or attempt a risky limb salvage procedure that would require additional surgeries.
“My mom drew a little chart on the board [in the hospital room] to help me understand the options, and before she even finished, I said, ‘Take it out. If I take off my leg, the cancer is going to go away.’”
On March 24, 2016, instead of mourning, Krajekian and his family celebrated a victory over cancer—and he wasn’t alone. His tennis team competed in its state championship on that same day, wearing shirts that read “Bye-Bye Cancer” in his honor.
Krajekian received a prosthetic leg two months after his amputation and spent the next six months undergoing chemo treatments. One year after his diagnosis, Krajekian returned to the court for the first time.
“It felt great!” he says. “I was still learning how to do some movements, but I was really encouraged.”
This summer, Krajekian and his parents flew to New York, where Tennis Channel debuted a feature on his inspiring story during the US Open. He met the entire Tennis Channel staff, including Annacone, who helped orchestrate the meeting with Federer. Cameras captured Krajekian’s shock and excitement when he first caught a glimpse of his tennis hero.
“Get well soon Marc and tell me when you’re ready and I’ll play tennis with you,” Federer wrote to Krajekian after hearing his story.
Through television and social media, people around the world have seen Krajekian’s story and the touching moment he shared on court with one of the biggest stars on the planet. He may have been encouraged and inspired by Federer, but millions of others have been inspired by Krajekian.
Now cancer-free and sporting a high-tech “tennis leg” from Scott Sabolich Prosthetics & Research, which specializes in artificial limbs for athletes—thanks to a referral from fellow TENNIS Magazine Hero Roger Crawford—the little boy is dreaming big.
“I want to play tennis for a long time, and if I could play in school that would be great,” says Krajekian. “I’m going to work harder and harder to get my goal and show others that people with prosthetic legs aren’t slow and they aren’t disabled. They are 100 percent able.”
For generations, and for generations to come, tennis has positively impacted the young and old, on and off the court, in countless ways. In this year’s Heroes special, we’ve selected 30 such stories, including a 10-year-old amputee’s life-changing moment with Roger Federer, the rebuilding of a college program after Hurricane Katrina, a former prodigy’s important message as an adult, and a 78-year-old coach’s enduring influence on the pros. Taken together, these 30 stories illustrate how people grow up, grow as individuals and grow old with tennis—the sport of a lifetime. Click here for more Heroes stories.