Jack Lisowski: I want to be world champion to give hope to people in the position I was in
Jack Lisowski has found a higher purpose in snooker, no longer just motivated by money, trophies and personal success, but to inspire those who are going through the horrific ordeal he faced as a teenager.
Lisowski is steadily becoming a consistent force at the top of the sport, but he has had to overcome more than most to reach this point after suffering with Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a 16-year-old, a form of cancer originating in white blood cells.
The disease took hold immediately after Jack left school and his life was put on hold for a year as he fought through the terrifying situation.
‘It was like I had a tennis ball in the middle of my chest, a massive lump’ Lisowski told Metro.co.uk. ‘I had a biopsy then they cut a lymph node out of my neck, the white blood cell count in my blood was off the scale, which normally indicates a stage four cancer.
‘That was where I was at for about seven days, thinking it was the most serious cancer, then I met my doctor in Cheltenham who pretty much just said: “Look I’m going to cure you.” That was it from there. I just had that mindset from that point, I had to find a way through.
‘The chemo was the worst thing ever. Every two weeks I had to go and for eight months it just broke me down.
‘My whole body was so weak. All my hair, my eyebrows come out, my skin went a different yellowy colour. I’d have a big blast of chemo and I’d look at my veins the next day and they were stained red, all the way up your arm you have a red spider’s web.’
Jack’s doctor was right and they did win the fight against the illness, allowing Jackpot to resume his promising snooker career, which seemed to take no time to get back on track despite what he had gone through.
‘Your body starts healing so fast, you start becoming your old self again, it’s amazing,’ Lisowski explained. ‘I think it took about a year until I was feeling strong again and then before I knew it I was in Sheffield getting the Paul Hunter Scholarship.
‘That let me play snooker every day against these pros, people like Ding [Junhui]. A year there and then I was a pro. It was all a bit of a blur. I was 16 getting ill one day then the next year I was turning pro. The last 15 years have been a bit of a blur to be honest. It’s weird.’
Lisowski plays with, what looks like, a care-free attitude around the table, with a relentlessly attacking brand of snooker delivered in the most stylish of manners.
An obvious narrative would be that overcoming what he did as a teenager has allowed him to adopt a relaxed attitude to knocking balls about on a table, and while he says that is true to an extent, things have changed for him recently.
Lisowski is now as motivated as ever to succeed because he wants to be an inspiration to anyone who finds themselves in a similar position to his as a 16-year-old going through an awful illness.
The 29-year-old was inspired during his own ordeal by the story of Lance Armstrong’s recovery from cancer and, while the cyclist has seen his sporting reputation tarnished, he wants to provide inspiration to others as the American did to him.
‘I think I’m naturally quite relaxed but it did help me to think that it is just a game of snooker,’ said Jack. ‘But at the same time it’s made me want to do well. I’ve realised this recently I really want to do well because I want to help people in the position I was in when I was 16 and I was sick.
‘When you’re ill you need things to give you hope and be positive about. When they told me I was sick, straight away I was like: “Who’s that guy? That biker that was going to die from cancer but got over it?” It was Lance Armstrong and I read everything about him.
‘When you’re sick you need to see that people have recovered so you can see the way yourself. To believe that it’s possible.
‘I feel that’s what I want to do more than anything. To be a person that one day if someone is sick they can say, “look at that guy Jack or look at Ali Carter [who has recovered from cancer twice], they were in my exact position and overcame it.”
‘How cool would it be to give someone hope when they’re sick? That’s what I’m learning. It would be amazing to win tournaments for myself, to realise my dreams, but that’s not the coolest thing for me to do.
‘What would my legacy be? I could win some tournaments, it is what it is. But in 50 years or whatever someone could say to me, “you helped me when I was sick” that would be a life goal for me. That would be the coolest thing for me to achieve and have some meaning in my life.’
Life in the pandemic has given everyone a bit more time to think and Lisowski has allowed himself to get deep and meaningful with himself and come out with this incredibly positive attitude.
He has had the best season of his career, reaching three finals, but is still hunting that elusive first ranking title, a search that will not end at one, but continue for many years so he can be the most inspirational role model possible.
‘I never really realised it until the last few months, but deep down that’s what I really want to do,’ he said. ‘That’s the frustrating thing when I’m losing because I don’t want to…not let those people down but I want to use the second chance that I’ve been given to inspire people if I can.
‘Look, it’s not what I wake up and think about first thing every morning, but if I’m going deep, that’s my deep goal in life. I want to be world champion because that would be the coolest thing for me to help people.
‘I’d call it a higher purpose. When you get deep you think, “what am I doing here on this planet?” I think that’s mine and it gives me a bit of pressure a good kick up the backside sometimes. I don’t want to be an average snooker player, I don’t want to not be learning, not improving, just getting to last 16s, last 32s.
‘My first goal was to pay my bills, then get a load of money, then nothing really changes so you think, “what’s it all about?” I could win a title, so what? There’s loads of players below me who have won one title. I really want to be a great player, not just a flash in the pan and win as many as I can and inspire people at the same time, It’s easier said than done, but that’s my motivation.
‘I do some stuff with the Teenage Cancer Trust, I’m an ambassador for their charity. I would love to do more but I’m…not embarrassed, but I’m only just top 16, I want to be doing stuff for them as world champion, world number one, that’s what I want.’
Lisowski knows first hand that this kind of inspiration can be the difference between life and death after Armstrong’s story helped him get through a spell of his own illness that seemed impossible at times.
‘I had eight months of chemo and four or five months in it was really breaking me down,’ he said. ‘That’s when I read Lance Armstrong’s book and I can remember he had some words for people going through that.
‘People can slag him off now but that inspired me to keep going. He basically just said how hard it is to get through and you need to keep fighting. I felt like he was speaking to me and that gave me the motivation to keep fighting.
‘At one point I didn’t think I could do it because it was that bad. I was getting so sick for days after. He has no idea who I am but that guy did that for me at that point so that’s what I want to do for someone else at some point, that would be the coolest thing ever.’
Lisowski is hoping that the World Championship this year will be a giant leap towards becoming that inspirational figure for people around the globe.
Jackpot battled past his good pal Ali Carter in the first round to set up a clash with Neil Robertson in round two, where he will be going out to attack the former world champ.
Sometimes criticised for his gun-slinging approach to the game, he says it is an innate drive to play this way, and while he is trying to holster his weapons sometimes, it is a constant battle against himself to do so.
‘I think I was always going for my shots, before I was sick,’ he said. ‘It’s something I was born with, I’ve never been that astute tactically. It’s easier for me to just see the ball going in a pocket rather than think: “If I play that shot then in two shots time he’ll have to play that.”
‘I’m not into the game of chess, I like the shoot out, firing away shots at each other. If I miss I can tell you why, not because I’ve been out thought or anything, they just didn’t go in today.
‘I’m not scared of missing, that’s for sure. It would kill me to play safe and lose a match on a bad safety shot rather than going for one. I’d rather go down swinging if I lose.
‘I’m just learning to do it under pressure. I’m not going to say my bottle is as good as John Higgins because it’s not, at the moment, but I’m learning that. I can definitely do it and it’s coming.’
Lisowski is a current and future star of snooker and is loving the journey he is on, which will hopefully end with a full trophy cabinet when he finally breaks his title duck.
He is relishing that challenge, appreciative of the life and career he has and the opportunity to help both himself and others.
‘It’s a great sport, it’s taught me so much, given me an amazing living, teaching me a lot about life as well: perseverance, discipline, hard work. I’m 29 and it’s a great career,’ he said.
‘It’s like the ultimate test. People putting your job under the microscope. If you play football, you can have a bad game and the team wins so no one cares. Even golf there’s no camera right in your face when you’re putting. It feels like the ultimate test. Have you got the bottle? Can you learn to be a machine under that much pressure?
‘It’s not like I wake up every morning and say, “I’m so lucky to be here,” but we do take things for granted and I am on a second chance so I’m having fun, my life is good.
‘It’s been the worst year for everyone with coronavirus, but when things get back to normal it’s all sweet. I really enjoy being a snooker player, I love it. I’m literally living my dream.’
I wanted to share this interview because it touched me profoundly. Without going into details, let me just say that I have been there too. It wasn’t the same illness but I was a teenager too, even younger than Jack, and it was life threatening and cripling. It was a fight that lasted over many years of unspeakable pain at times. Such things change you forever. They make you or break you. They give you perspective. You realise that very few things are really that important. You realise that anything can be taken away from you in an instant, just like that.
What keeps you fighting is different for everyone I suppose, but deep down it always come down to keeping your dreams and hopes alive, finding something that makes the fight and pain worth it. For Jack it was his snooker dream and Lance Amstrong story. Now he wants to give back and help others. He wants to inspire by becoming World Champion. (*)
Good luck Jack! I sincerly hope that you will lift the ultimate trophy one day … but, you know what? You are an inspiration already, just by being there, alive, at the table, keeping fans on the edge of their seat, and doing it with a smile on your face.