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‘It's a miracle:’ MSU's Jack Winkler overcomes health scare, returns to the court

March 2, 2022
<p>Redshirt senior Jack Winkler celebrates after winning a point against Louisville’s junior Etienne Donnet on Feb. 12, 2022.</p>

Redshirt senior Jack Winkler celebrates after winning a point against Louisville’s junior Etienne Donnet on Feb. 12, 2022.

Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

Every athlete has a narrative. It takes practice, skill, persistence and much more. While rewarding for most, it is a challenge as well.

Michigan State men's tennis redshirt senior Jack Winkler has his own unique story.

Winkler began playing tennis at a young age. He played for his high school team at Brother Rice and was ranked No. 71 nationwide. When it came time for recruiting season, he was ranked second in the state of Michigan.

When Winkler began at Michigan State in the fall of 2017, it was clear that he had what it takes.

"He's always been a tough player with high expectations, and who demands a lot of himself. He expects his teammates to do the same," Michigan State Head Coach Gene Orlando said.

He continued to improve as the 2017-18 season progressed. By the end of his first year at MSU, Winkler had played in a total of 17 singles matches, including playing at ITA Midwest Regionals and Big Ten Outdoors.

When Winkler entered his spring semester he was ready to give it his all.

However, he began to feel weaker than usual. He had lost a significant amount of weight and had constant stomach pain. Not long after he was diagnosed with ulcerous colitis. Winkler was put on a medicine to help with the pain, but the relief didn't last.

It wasn't until he returned for his junior year when he noticed he wasn't himself. Medical professionals tried medication after medication, but didn't have any success. As his illness worsened, there was even talk of him losing his colon.

While Winkler was recovering, he worked as the team's volunteer assistant coach. Although unable to play, he wanted to remain a part of the team.

"We purposely made him the Volunteer Student Assistant Coach to make him feel apart of the program and the team when he was going through a tough time," Orlando said.

Now Winkler is back on the court, helping his team secure a 8-3 start with a personal 4-3 record in singles and a 2-3 record in doubles.

"Being out for two years never fun. You always want to be with the team and compete with them," Winkler said. "It's been a great feeling to come back and do my job and help the team get more wins."

Orlando never thought he'd see his athlete back on the court again. But now, it's a dream come true.

"To see what he has been able to do right now is remarkable," Orlando said. "It's a miracle."

Winkler couldn't have made the comeback he did without his team. Both his teammates and coaching staff show continuous support.

"He's like a big brother to me. He's always pushing me to try my hardest at every practice and match," sophomore Max Sheldon said. "We've got to dish it back to him and let him know that he's got the whole team behind him.”

While going through a difficult time, Winkler's teammates made sure to keep in touch and check up on him often.

"I've kept in touch with them a bunch especially when I was at home and unable to be with team. They've been a really great support system for me," Winkler said.

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Since his return, Winkler has shown strength. He continues to display resilience both on and off the court.

"I go out there every weekend and try and beat the guy across the net," Winkler said. "Whether he has a number in front of his name or not, it doesn't really matter. I need to keep that mindset and continue trying to do my own thing and make sure I compete as hard as possible."

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