Badminton legend battling cancer
Hinsdale South JV badminton coach Dennis Karnstedt
Updated: December 17, 2012 1:57AM
HOMER GLEN — Dennis Karnstedt has been a fixture as a badminton coach since the program began at Hinsdale South.
Now that he is fighting a battle against lung cancer, Karnstedt hasn’t given much thought yet about coming back to coach for the upcoming season this spring. If he is unable to return, it would the program’s first without Karnstedt as a part of it.
“He was always one of the most active persons I’ve ever known,” said April (Niemann) Zawlocki, who won the 1999 state doubles championship under Karnstedt. “It’s hard to see someone like him having lung cancer. He’s always in tip-top physical condition.”
Zawlocki was the first of four sisters to play badminton for the Hornets, but the only one to have Karnstedt as a head coach. Her younger sisters Carissa, Lanette and Olivia were in the program after Karnstedt retired as head coach and stayed on as an assistant and JV coach.
The four sisters reunited with Karnstedt in April when proceeds from a fund-raiser related to the Hinsdale South ABCD Invitational went toward the Boston hospital where Karnstedt was seeking treatment.
“You have mixed emotions about this kind of thing,” Karnstedt said. “It’s a journey you don’t want to travel, but you learn a tremendous amount.”
Karnstedt continues to recover at his Homer Glen home, seeking treatment at nearby Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet and trying to keep busy with projects around the house. The 67-year-old retired teacher reported that he is on his fourth cycle of chemotherapy and is planning on beginning radiation treatments later this month. Karnstedt is under the care of Dr. Hedy Lee Kindler, the director of the Mesothelioma Program at the University of Chicago Medicine.
Karnstedt was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer usually associated with asbestos exposure, in the spring and had major surgery May 24 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston. Doctors removed Karnstedt’s left lung and portions of other organs during the surgery.
“This is a club you don’t want to be a member of,” Karnstedt said. “I’ve still got a little ways to go. The light is in the tunnel.”
Before leaving for Boston, Karnstedt was able to join the Hornets for the state meet. Hinsdale South’s Brittany DeClouette and Emma Adcock won the state doubles championship.
“All of my sisters have played for him. He’s part of the family,” Zawlocki said “It was pretty exciting to be able to support him. He’s done so much for all of us girls.”
John Charters took over the badminton program from Karnstedt in 2001 and the two have produced Hinsdale South’s top athletic program with three state titles, one second place and a third place finish. The Hornets have been fourth the last two years.
“I have been able to spend some time with and am constantly talking to Denny,” Charters said. “The thing that scares me the most is looking at what cancer has done to Denny. To me, he is superhuman. He has been able to do incredible things in the world of running. He is Superman to me, and after seeing how cancer has humbled him really scares me. If cancer can humble someone I think has super human strength and will power, I can only imagine what it does to the average person like me.”
A few months ago, Karnstedt returned to Boston for a biopsy, which proved negative. He may not need to return for another checkup until January.
After leaving the hospital in June, Karnstedt and his wife, Hinsdale South English teacher Pamela Baker, returned to Chicago for 2 1/2 weeks and then spent much of the summer at their home in Naples, Fla. Karnstedt retired from Hinsdale South in 2000 after spending 32 years as a science teacher. He was the varsity badminton coach when Hinsdale South won its first state title in 1999.
He ran the Boston Marathon six years ago and finished third in his age division. With one lung, Karnstedt is realizing that he may have to give up his regular basketball games as well.
“I’m doing pretty good, really,” Karnstedt said. “I’m as active as much as I can. I get tired really fast. I have a lot of things to be thankful for on how bad things could be, I’m able to weather the storm.”
Supporters wishing to contact Karnstedt can send an email to email@example.com.