Never stop swinging: Ethan Kucera returns from back surgery a stronger golfer


Matt Petres

Carefully measuring the distance, senior Ethan Kucera lines up his putt at the Harborside International Golf Course. After recovering from back surgery, Ethan spent the summer training his swing with a healed body while breaking personal records. Ethan returned to the golf team performing well in tournaments.

Krishita Dutta, Opinion Editor

He stands on the green, holding firmly onto his golf club. He looks off into the distance, directly at his goal: not only to score, but to prove to himself that he can. He swings, and the golf ball rolls into the hole. 

After months of rebuilding his stamina, Ethan Kucera is finally back in the game.

Ethan, a senior, has played golf for nearly 10 years, including four on U-High’s varsity golf team. In February Ethan underwent major back surgery for scoliosis, throwing an obstacle in his golfing career right before his senior season. Through an incredibly difficult period of physical recovery, Ethan learned lessons of perseverance and determination, and he returned a stronger golf player than he was before.

“I’ve struggled with scoliosis since I was 8, and while it was progressively getting worse, it was at a slow enough rate that doctors never worried about it too much,” Ethan said. “It wasn’t ’til the pandemic that it got really bad really fast, and so in February this year, I had to get surgery so that it didn’t begin to affect my heart and lung function.”

Ethan’s scoliosis affected his day-to-day life, but he believes golf was always impacted the most.

“Golf was really difficult with scoliosis because since it kept getting worse, my body structure kept changing,” Ethan said, “and so I had to keep adjusting to new swings in golf.” 

This hindered his ability to master his swings, since he was playing in a slightly different body every game. 

Hence, when he was offered a chance to fix his scoliosis, he took up the opportunity. 

“It was scary at first to hear that I couldn’t play for so long,” he said, “but I thought ‘the sooner the better,’ because I wanted to be ready for the fall season.”

I didn’t realize it before, but that’s when I realized my surgery was only a temporary setback. In the bigger picture, it left me a better player than before, because now I was playing with a healed body.

— Ethan Kucera

Surgery day was Feb. 15. He received the surgery in Boston and had to stay in the hospital for five days. The doctors told him it would be three months before he could engage in any physical activity and five months until he could properly go back to golf in order to rebuild his stamina.

The summer called for the most determination from Ethan. Day after day, he’d practice at his apartment building’s golf simulator to get back in the swing of the sport. The golf simulator allows residents to practice playing golf in a room surrounded by screens that simulate a golf field. This allowed Ethan to practice his swings and aim, and by June 14, he managed to play his first full round since recovery. 

“It felt amazing,” Ethan said. “It was those smaller moments that made all the more frustrating parts feel worth it.”

On July 4, Ethan set his overall personal record.

“I didn’t realize it before, but that’s when I realized my surgery was only a temporary setback,” he said. “In the bigger picture, it left me a better player than before, because now I was playing with a healed body.”

According to junior Alex Rupple, a captain, Ethan was one of the best varsity players during the season. He held the highest individual score for the team’s last tournament; the 2A sectionals for the IHSA tournament on Oct. 3. Alex believes Ethan’s strength through recovery makes his success all the more remarkable.

“Golf is a sport that is very spiral and very rotation related, so to see one of our players not only recover from a surgery so quickly and successfully within less than 12 months, but also give his absolute best to the sport during the season right after surgery, is just incredible.” 

Golf has always been Ethan’s happy place, helping him to bond with his friends at school and to escape stress. He plans to keep golf as a hobby as he goes into college to relax.

“Ethan’s a great player and really an amazing friend,” Alex said. “Ethan ended on a really amazing note, and while bittersweet, he has an amazing story to tell of overcoming a major obstacle and bouncing back.”