Behind Kongdoo Monsters’ revival to re-qualify for League Champions Korea after being relegated in the spring was the struggle of one of its coaches to beat cancer, writes Fomos’ Park Sang Jin.
Lee “Zefa” Jae-Min, ex-AD Carry for Najin e-m Fire, joined Kongdoo’s staff in June. He was initially diagnosed with cancer in 2015 when Zefa was still part of Najin, prompting him to quit the team in order to receive cancer treatment. Initially, he said, it looked like he could beat the illness six months with treatment and surgery, and his treatment ended in February.
But he found out days before Kongdoo’s match in the finals of the Challenger Series that the cancer had returned. He missed that match as well as the first day of the promotional tournament to have another surgery.
“When I relapsed right before an important game, I felt very apologetic to the team,” he told Fomos. “Head coach Chae (Woo-Chul) also had to work twice as hard due to my absence. I met with the team the first day of the promotional tournament and was able to join the team in the booth for the winners’ match.”
Woo-Chul expressed a desire to work with Zefa earlier, but health concerns kept Zefa away until June. They didn’t tell the team what the illness exactly was in order to prevent any negative impacts and only recently told them Zefa was battling cancer.
Zefa was released from the hospital and said he “felt healthy enough” to attend the match in which Kongdoo re-qualified for the LCK. The article did not disclose the type of cancer Zefa is battling or his future outlook.
Despite fighting his own battle, Zefa said Woo-Chul was his source of inspiration for continuing to fight and try to coach the team.
“I followed Chae since the days of him being the coach of Najin,” he said. “If anyone else would have asked me to be a coach I would have turned them down, and I was approached by different teams. When Chae came to me as Kongdoo got relegated, I accepted his call for help. It was tough dealing with the relapse, but I am very happy and satisfied with the players and the head coach.”
Zefa also talked about the elation he felt as Kongdoo swept the competition to make it back into the LCK regular season, but he’s more than content making smaller, more manageable goals for the time being.
“Of course I was happy,” he said. “I felt a wave of energy within that didn’t exist before. Everyone played very well. Everyone worked very hard in challengers, so I hope they have success in the spring split that reflects their hard work. Hopefully we can make it to playoffs and if I was greedy, I hope we win the split, but realistically I hope we avoid relegation. I’ve been on stage as a player and coach, but the hardest was when we were in the promotional series.”