Corina Morariu: The Braveheart Who Defied Death

Sudeshna BanerjeeAnalyst IJuly 28, 2009

MIAMI-MARCH 21: Corina Morariu poses for photographers after being presented by the WTA with the Comeback Player of the Year award during the Nasdaq-100 Open March 21, 2003 at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

’’Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage’’—Anais Nin.

True it is that unflinching courage and indomitable spirit can successfully bring back a human being from submerging into eternal darkness. With sheer mental fortitude the opponent which almost ebbed away the throbbing life can definitely be put to submission.

Corina Morariu proved this. She fought an incredible battle in comparison to which a mere match victory or loss seems so bland, so mundane, so insignificant or perhaps even non-existent.

As a young, Detroit-born exuberant girl growing up in Florida, she perhaps had never imagined to fight a battle not on the tennis courts she was fond of, but on the hospital bed. Nor did her physician parents of Romanian origin, Albin and Rodica.

The affable girl had perhaps achieved everything she could have asked for. She won her first Grand Slam title at the 1999 Wimbledon women’s doubles, partnering one of her closest buddies Lindsay Davenport, and revelled in wedding bliss the same year. She followed it up with her 2001 mixed doubles success at Melbourne Park with Ellis Fereira.

She had also reached the pinnacle of the rankings in women’s doubles in 2000.

Corina was basking in glory and fame, enjoying every moment of her success, and not having the slightest cognizance of what her life would be plunging in next.

On May 10, 2001, the charming 23-year-old came back home from Berlin with a foot injury. The day after she reached home she started suffering from frequent nosebleeds and a couple of days later, she had difficulty in waking up when her entire body was covered in bruises.

Within days, a completely healthy and lively human being was transformed into an immobile individual, totally paralysed in bed.

A series of tests followed, and it was then left to the unfortunate father, Dr. Albin Morariu, to break to her one of the gravest news—Corina had leukaemia. It was acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a fast growing cancer of the white blood cells characterized by hemorrhaging.

The only silver lining was that Corina had over 70 percent chance of survival due to her fit physique and young age.

But more important was how much would she be able to respond to the treatment and return to the life she once had—a question the answer to which was perhaps unknown to everybody except the Almighty.

As Corina lay ensnared in Destiny’s cruel trap, on the hospital bed of Jackson Memorial Hospital, she painfully watched her hair fall out, the side-effects of chemotherapy deliver writhing pain to her body, and her muscles fall away.

The intensive chemo treatment prompted another serious side-effect—an accumulation of white cells resulting in the clogging of the lung—a condition that could be life-threatening.

Corina was in critical condition that entire month. She was hanging on a thin line separating life and death but what she did not lose was hope.

She had an insatiable desire to live, and that desire even defied death.

Unwavering support poured in from her family, friends, and fans which started making her far more positive and upbeat.

Far from the clay courts of Paris, she watched her old pal Jennifer Capriati dedicate her 2001 French Open victory to her, and she was overwhelmed to find a letter from cancer-surviving cycling genius Lance Armstrong.

Morariu achieved first-round win but did not realize that she would have to cross yet another hurdle to complete this inspiring victory.

She developed a severe infection from the side-effects, that again put her back in hospital for two months at a stretch.

Ultimately in November, a day after Thanksgiving, the brave woman could finally find the smile back on her countenance as she emerged out of the dreaded place that had been her home for the past few months.

Corina beat cancer—the most dangerous rival she had ever played against and latter tests revealed that the cancer was in remission.

But would she ever be able to return to the sport that she was so passionate about before the disease struck her?

Morariu had exhibited that she was never a quitter. Staunch determination and grit were an integral part of the American.

Corina tried hard, tried desperately. The rehabilitation was never easy, but Corina too was never to give up.

She resumed practice from January the following year and would tire just after five minutes.

But the diligent worker in Morariu kept on persevering. Unswerving self-belief egged her on.

By April, she could work for as long as two hours each day.

It was not until June that Corina found herself getting close to the person and player that she was once was.

Corina made a comeback to competitive tennis at San Diego few weeks later, and the tournament awarded her the first annual Corina Comeback Award as a token of appreciation of her tremendous intrepidity.

She played her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open that year, and even though she lost 2-6, 3-6 to the eventual champion, Serena Williams, Corina was the bigger winner that day.

The world was stupefied by her heroic feat—a girl who just 12 months ago was battling life and death, and was swishing her racket and returning Serena’s thundering ground strokes, which compelled even Serena to praise her.

At the same tournament she reached the mixed doubles semifinal and the doubles quarter-final—Corina simply continued to stun and deliver the unthinkable.

The WTA too bestowed upon her the 2003 Comeback Player of the Year Award, and instituted the Corina Morariu Courage Award in her honour.

Her physical strength was not exactly the same like it was before she fell victim to the deadly disease but it could not deter her.

Her iron will was truly rewarded when she reached the final of another Grand Slam—the 2005 Australian Open women’s doubles with Davenport. She reached a total of six finals—two of which she won and also numerous other semifinals since her illness and was also a part of the U.S. Fed Cup team in 2005.

The audacious lady finally hung up her racket in 2007 at the age of 29 after reaching the quarter-finals of women’s doubles at the U.S. Open.

Even after retirement, she still continues to contribute to the sport she loved so dearly by commentating for The Tennis Channel.

Today, Corina is also serving as The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's first International Sports Ambassador and as a member of the organization's Chairman's Advisory Council.

As the Society's International Sports Ambassador, she is helping to build awareness of the Society's prominent role in advancing improved treatments and finding cures for leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and Hodgkin lymphoma.

Corina Morariu exemplified the fact that nothing is impossible. At a time when she was match point down against death, she dug deep to come back and save that match point and ultimately proclaim victory.

Her life remains a true inspiration for millions of unfortunate people falling prey to cancer every year, and she taught all of us that with hope we can surmount even the most insuperable hurdle.

Corina testified to the fact that there are no alternatives to outstanding human spirit, will, and determination which can pull one back from even the deepest dungeons.

And she makes it so simple in her own very pragmatic statement: ‘’This whole thing was a really challenging time for me, and I saw two choices. I could feel sorry for myself, cry, be upset, and ask 'Why me,' or I could be positive and make the best of the situation. I knew the crying wasn't going to make the disease go away."

Long live Corina—the braveheart.


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