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Never counted out: Maxine Esteban faces any challenge head-on

We knew Filipino fencer Maxine Esteban was a well-decorated athlete.

But, we didn’t exactly expect that asking for a full list of all her accomplishments in her career as a fencer meant receiving a 12-page athletic profile. Outlining every medal and award from her career, we scrolled through and saw how she went from competing in local fencing tournaments and winning medals at the young age of 12 to making it to the World Championships in Cairo, Egypt last July.

Now at 22 years old, she is 62nd in the World Senior Ranking for fencing.

The long list of her accomplishments as a young athlete left us in awe. But upon hearing about her story in her own words, we discovered that there is more to her than just her medals.

A true athlete

Like many athletes, Maxine Esteban started her athletic journey with her family. Her parents are staunch supporters of sports, she tells us, and growing up, they immersed Maxine and her siblings in different sports. She herself tried her hand at several other sports—swimming, badminton, taekwondo, and figure skating.

And what’s more, she excelled in all of them.

In fact, she was already competing internationally in figure skating when the rink in SM Megamall closed. Because of this, she got hooked on a new sport instead: fencing.

Maxine tells us that getting into fencing was a challenge for her. Training for the sport is already demanding, and as a young athlete, she had to juggle her school on top of it. Going to high school at Immaculate Conception Academy and taking up Management Engineering in Ateneo, academics were important to her.

But, she admits, “I had a very difficult time. Attendance was crucial in both schools. The academic load was very challenging.”

And along with that academic load, every day after school, she would attend her training from 6:00 to 9:30 PM. This meant that she would arrive home at 10:00 PM and start studying at around 11:00 PM. She even admitted that usually, she would finish her work at 3:00 AM, and would have to wake up at 7:00 AM just to do it all again.

“I would say those were the most challenging days.”

Maxine Esteban.

But it was a challenge that many would agree paid off. In UAAP Season 81, she was named Rookie of the Year and MVP. And on top of that, she also won the Moro Lorenzo Award for Excellence in Sports, as well as the Lady Eagle of the Year Awardee in 2019.

With all her successes as a young student-athlete, she has already turned many heads in the industry. In fact, she’s even backed by brands such as Anta and Rebisco, who support and push her to excellence.

But apart from her school awards, she has more to account for throughout her college years.

12 pages of success (and counting)

While winning Rookie of the Year and MVP in the UAAP is a feat in itself, Maxine Esteban’s 12-page list of accomplishments goes far beyond that. And, it goes far beyond the borders of the Philippines too.

One of the highlights of Maxine’s career thus far is competing at the World Cup for fencing—multiple times.

In 2018, she won the bronze medal in the Women’s Foil Senior Individual category in the Senior World Cup in Copenhagen. The following year, the young Filipina fencer finished as the top seventh in the same category at the Junior World Cup in Guatemala.

This year, she also finished in 38th place among 165 competitors in the individual Women’s Foil of the Senior World Cup in Belgrade, Serbia. Later that month, she also finished 44th place out of 193 fencers in the Senior World Cup in Tauberbiscofsheim, Germany.

“I think the year 2022 is my biggest high,” she expresses. “For three consecutive world cups, I made it into the top 64. In two competitions, I automatically qualified after winning all the bouts in my poule.”

Apart from the World Cup, last July, Maxine also traveled to Cairo, Egypt for the highly-anticipated World Championships. “I had been looking forward to it because I was physically and mentally prepared for it,” she shares.

Because of her impressive performances in the past, she was expected to do well. And throughout the beginning rounds, she felt confident herself. But later in the tournament, she was faced with an even bigger challenge.

Finishing strong, no matter what

At the World Championships, several media outlets caught wind of what had happened to Maxine Esteban. But recently, we were able to hear it from her point of view.

“The first few rounds were okay. I felt something off in my left knee but it didn’t really bother me much.  I was doing well in the poules. In my last bout, I was fencing against Great Britain and the score was 4-1 in my favor. When I retreated, I suddenly heard and felt a snap in my left knee followed by excruciating pain. I knew right there and then that something had gone awfully wrong.

“After medics came to check and assess my knee, they concluded from a physical examination that I had torn my ACL and PCL. Not being able to move, my mind instinctively told me that I had to get my ass back up and finish the bout. So with no strength nor mobility, I stood on the piste, and still managed to get the last point to win the bout. I needed to finish the elimination round. The points I could’ve possibly earned were too precious to throw away.”

Standing directly in the face of every athlete’s worst nightmare, Maxine got up and finished it. Her instinct told her to win, and that’s exactly what she did.

Recovery road

Injuries to the ACL and the PCL are some of the most difficult ones to suffer from, especially in terms of recovery. And ever since her injury last July, Maxine Esteban has been on the rehabilitation road.

“Every day is a blessing,” she says.

Throughout her recovery program, she tells us that she has not stopped being active. Every day, she still goes to her lessons and undergoes physiotherapy thrice a week, and she has been doing well. In fact, for her weights program, her goal was to lift only twice her weight, which is around 208 pounds. Recently, she was able to lift 300.

But if we learned anything from her campaign at the World Championships, it’s that Maxine Esteban is a fighter.

However, for her the physical aspect of recovering hasn’t been the most challenging part—it’s mental. “My body has been wanting to fence, to train as much as I did, to compete, but I can’t. I feel so energized and strong but I have no clearance from my doctor to do so.”

Growing up with such an active lifestyle, making this adjustment while she recovers has been one of the most challenging parts for her. Especially given the big goals that she had set her sights on.

A realistic dreamer

“My goal is to qualify for the 2024 Olympics,” Maxine states. Given her performances in the past, especially in her international tournaments and World Cup achievements, even she said herself, “I knew deep inside that I am right on track for Paris 2024.”

“However, due to this injury, I need to be conservative and realistic.”

In keeping with this, Maxine knows that concentrating on her recovery first and foremost is a crucial aspect of her return to competitive fencing. With this, she is currently on the road to coming back to full training this January.

And though she wants to return to competing as soon as she possibly can, she knows, “Of course, everything depends on God’s will.”

Maxine Esteban.

“As you can see, I was at the top of my career last July, during the world championship, but apparently, God has other plans for me. Don’t get me wrong. Despite the injury which others may see as a setback, I am grateful that the injury wasn’t more serious.”

If grace amidst a life-altering challenge could be awarded a point in fencing, Maxine would take the win by margins.

For now, as Maxine’s plans and goals are still left up to her recovery, she remains motivated to get better. “I simply have to trust God’s plan for me and I will be alright. Of course, the excitement and the itch of competing again keep me motivated. I know that I have to work overtime but I’m always up for the challenge,” she says.

Maxine’s successes as an athlete have been nothing short of incredible. And at only 22, she is certainly destined for even more. But, away from all the medals, accolades, and awards, Maxine Esteban is a lot more than that. Even faced with a huge hurdle to overcome, she remains positive and motivated.

Maxine Esteban.

One could only imagine how strong she can be mentally when things are in her favor.

But even when they aren’t, she doesn’t lose sight of what is truly important. “Dream big and do everything you can to achieve your dream. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you reach your dream or not. What is important is the journey,  the character formation, and the life lessons you learned along the way.”

Article and banner images courtesy of Maxine Esteban.


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