One day in May 2015, before undergoing yet another surgery, Nolan Zikas typed 15 words and pressed send on a tweet that would prove prophetic. It read, “The fight is not over, but when it is over I WILL BE THE VICTOR.” The ‘fight’ that Zikas referenced raged on even after he shot an even-par 70 in the final tournament of his freshman season as a member of the Concordia golf program.
The golf course had become a sanctuary for Zikas after he learned of the tumor in his right leg in January of 2012. He was diagnosed with a form of cancer called osteosarcoma. Since then, Zikas has endured at least a dozen surgeries, numerous visits to the Mayo clinic, chemotherapy and regular checkups.
Let’s fast forward to August 2018. Says Zikas, now a senior, “In a way, golf saved my life. I wasn’t ever going to give up. I’ve never been known to give up. To this day now, I’ve been two-and-a-half years cancer free. Everything is going really well. I feel great. I started walking instead of taking a cart. I couldn’t be at a better point in my life right now.”
Because of Zikas’ rapid improvement, his visits to the doctor are less frequent. They were lessened from every three months to every six months. He’s stronger both physically and mentally than ever before. He’s also on the verge of breaking a school record for lowest career scoring average. A senior with three all-conference awards and an All-American Scholar accolade to his credit, Zikas commands respect in ways that transcend anything that can ever happen on a golf course.
The continuous fight is paying off for Zikas, now the heart and soul of the men’s golf program for head coach Brett Muller. Says Muller, “First of all, Nolan’s an awesome kid. He’s impacted so many people on this campus and in this conference. He’s had great support. Everybody wants to check in and see how Zeke is doing. He has a very contagious personality. I definitely appreciate the support he’s given from the conference teams and coaches.”
It's not easy to grasp the full scope of what Zikas has gone through and how he’s persevered. He felt like he had achieved his highest point in life to date in April 2015 when he won a GPAC qualifier event. Two days later he learned that he had suffered a setback. A tumor in his lungs had spread, requiring additional surgery.
At that point, it was nothing new for Zeke. Just when he thought perhaps maybe he had turned a corner, he was dealt another dose of cruel adversity.
“I remember winning the GPAC and literally like a week later I was told that cancer was back and I was going under the knife again,” Zikas said. “Being around the team and having them around me made me always want to do my best. I knew golf was my go-to to get everything off my mind. Whenever I could I would get out on the course. Doctors would say don’t golf for a month after your surgery. I wouldn’t go out, but I’d be down in the basement putting and doing whatever I could to keep my game on point.”
On point would be a good way to describe Zikas’ efforts last season as a junior. He topped the team with a season average of 74.69 during a campaign that saw him shoot a four-under-par 68 on Concordia’s home turf, Highlands Golf Course in Lincoln, Neb. The 68 equaled a school single-round standard.
So far, there’s been nothing to bring Zikas down from that high. The commitment Concordia made to Zikas has paid immense dividends – and it has little to do with his golf game. It’s safe to say that the benefits have been mutual. The La Vista, Neb., native will be forever thankful that Muller gave him an opportunity to be a college golfer when not many others did.
“I wasn’t looked at by very many college when I came in,” Zikas said. “Coach had faith in me that I would push through and my high school coach knew I’d push through to fight to be out on the course. That’s what I did. I didn’t have any other options.”
The option he ultimately ended up with seems to have worked out just fine. Muller is proud of the growth he’s observed in Zikas and understands just what he has meant to the program.
“Nolan’s come a long ways since his freshman year,” Muller said. “He’s been cancer free for two-and-a-half years now. He’s a completely different kid. He’s put on some good weight. He’s a lot stronger than he was as a freshman. He’s really matured into the leader of our team.”
Some things have not changed. Three years ago Nolan’s mother Erica referred to her son as “a fighter.” Nolan’s father Tim called his son “one of a kind” and “an inspiration.” Zeke is still those things.
Though cancer is hopefully far away in the rearview mirror, he has no problem talking about his story and how family, faith, his teammates and the game of golf carried him through to the present day. A recreation and sport studies major, Zikas wants to keep golf in his life forever. This past summer he worked in Scottsdale, Ariz., as an intern club builder. He also wants to continue to be a source of inspiration, particularly to those who may one day endure the same health scares.
Says Zikas, “Something in the golf field would be a goal. I would like to start up my own golf clothing company and give back to Make-A-Wish and pediatric cancer just because I feel it’s my turn to give back and help out the kids who are going through the same thing I went through. I want to make sure they know they can get through with it and come out on top.”
Coming out on top is exactly what Zikas has done. He IS the victor.