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Skowlund serves first point on new Durango High School tennis courts

Senior recovers from cancer
Kai Skowlund cuts the ribbon at the Durango High School tennis courts on Friday. After playing varsity as a freshman and sophomore, Skowlund was diagnosed with cancer, but has since recovered and is now the team's manager.(Photo courtesy Joe Burns)

Two years ago, Kai Skowlund was a sophomore at Durango High School and qualified for the state tennis championships at No. 1 doubles with his partner, Aedan Hall.

“That was a big accomplishment,” he said.

Skowlund also played varsity at No. 2 doubles his freshman year.

After his sophomore season, however, Skowlund broke his leg mountain biking.

When we went to the doctor, he found out he had osteosarcoma, bone cancer, which had weakened his leg.

“I was lucky we caught it early,” Skowlund said.

Skowlund spent the next nine months treating the cancer, getting chemotherapy and staying off the court.

“It was also tough in a COVID year – the treatments weakened my immune system and made me really vulnerable,” Skowlund said. “I had to stay isolated and couldn’t see my friends.”

Slowlund, however, said he’s been cancer-free for the past seven months. His bone still needs to finish healing, he said, and he isn’t cleared for high-impact activities, but he can play tennis and ride his bike a again, just not at the same intensity as before.

“It gave me a new perspective on everything, and I’m thankful for what I have,” Skowlund said. “You never know when it could get taken from you.”

While Skowlund wasn’t cleared to compete this season, he’s been helping out the Durango High School boys tennis team as a manager this fall.

Tanner Coddington of Durango High School goes after the ball with his teammate, Cater Ward, behind him while playing doubles Friday against Fruita Monument High School at DHS. The competition was the team’s first on the school’s newly refinished courts. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

On Friday, when DHS played Fruita Monument on its newly refinished tennis courts, the team honored Skowlund. He cut the ribbon and served the first point on the new courts.

“That was a nice surprise for me,” he said. “I was nervous, but glad I got to do it. ... It went well. I didn’t double fault.”

“I won the game after that so I think he did great,” said Griffin Hall, the team’s No. 1 singles player.

Head coach Todd Jolley said the courts at the high school had never been refinished, going more than 20 years without any attention before now.

“They’re amazing,” Jolley said. “They’re way more grippy than we’re used to.”

The Demons broke in the new courts by playing Fruita Monument on Friday and Saturday.

Hall, who lost 6-3 and 6-4 on Friday to Ryan Davis, said he adjusted his strategy for their rematch Saturday. “I noticed what he was doing yesterday and focused on coming to the net more,” he said.

On Saturday, their first set lasted longer than an entire doubles match with both players having to hit a good shot to score anything.

“I was playing pretty good,” Hall said. “My serve was doing pretty good, and my ground strokes too; I placed them well and moved him around.”

Davis, however, eventually won the first set 7-6 and the second set, 6-2.

At No. 2 singles, Calan Barnhardt won his first set on Saturday 6-3. The next two sets were closer, but Barnhardt ended up losing 7-5 and 12-10 a day after falling to the same player 6-1, 7-5.

Rowan Hall, meanwhile, scored tiebreaker wins on Friday and Saturday at No. 3 singles to a player that beat him at the Western Slope tournament. Saturday, he beat Colby O’Day 2-6, 7-5 and 10-3.

  • At No. 1 doubles, Tanner Coddington bumped up seven spots on the team’s depth ladder to compete with Carter Ward, but lost in a tiebreaker 6-1, 5-7 and 4-10.
  • At No. 2 doubles, Leo Stritikus and Hays Stritikus won on Friday but were unable to beat the same duo two days in a row and fell 6-1 and 6-3 on Saturday.
  • At No. 3 doubles, Will Benac and Nate Claasen lost a close match 6-4 and 7-5.
  • Hunter Gray and Michael Shires fell at No. 4 doubles, 0-6, 6-3 and 8-10.

“I think we could improve on a lot of things, but we should be able to hold our own at regionals and get some guys to state,” Griffin Hall said.

Although Skowlund knows a return trip to the state championships isn’t in his future, the senior said he’s happy to help out the team however he can. After not being able to straighten his leg, let alone walk for a time, Skowlund said he made a commitment to himself to strengthen his leg again in physical therapy. On Friday, some that work showed when he got to serve the first point on the newly refinished courts.

“I was really thankful to do that after all of the stuff I’ve been through the last year and a half,” Skowlund said. “It’s good to be part of the team, even though I’m not playing.”