Ever since she was a young girl, Maxine Esteban, the woman who has climbed to the peaks of the Philippine fencing scene, has lived life to the fullest — in constant and active pursuit of whatever passions caught her eye.
“Even before I started to walk, I was already swimming,” shared Esteban. “My parents, who both agree that immersing their children in sports is crucial for personal growth and development, exposed us to different sports and allowed us to choose which one we enjoyed.”
Previously, what Esteban enjoyed was the ice. Before she became the fencing prodigy that she is today, she was also once a figure skater who competed at both the local and international levels. Unfortunately, she was forced to retire from the sport after the SM Megamall ice rink had closed. The only other alternative rink, which was located in the SM Mall of Asia, proved to be too far away from home for her to pursue a regular athlete’s schedule.
“We had to choose another sport,” said Esteban, who pushed forward with an ambition to dream. “That’s when fencing came to light.”
En garde: On your guard!
Once, Maxine Esteban was just an eleven-year-old who wanted to choose another hobby.
“When I started fencing, it was purely for fitness and personal growth. I really liked how noble a fencer looks in her outfit, I found their moves cool, and I really enjoyed the movie Parent Trap, so I bugged my parents to enroll me at the nearby Xavier School fencing club,” Esteban reminisced fondly.
Flash forward to a little less than a decade later, Esteban is now the highest-ranked fencing athlete in the country, according to the Fédération Internationale d’Escrime (FIE), the sport’s international governing body. She is also a bronze 2019 SEA Games medalist of the Women’s Team Foil event and the 2018 Senior Satellite World Cup in Denmark. Domestically, she is the UAAP Season 81 Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player for women’s fencing, among other notable achievements.
All of this, Esteban has achieved alongside her studies in both high school and university. In addition to her daily athletic routine, she is also currently pursuing a degree in management engineering at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU).
It is easy to imagine then that, prior to the pandemic, Esteban operated at an incredibly demanding schedule as a competitive student-athlete. What was considered normal then was sleeping for three to four hours a day, training five times a week after school, and fulfilling whatever academic responsibilities she had before turning over and starting again.
Esteban loved the rush: “I like the feeling that I have so much to do with so little time because, after I’ve accomplished everything, I feel the utmost fulfillment.”
One time, Esteban recalled a gruelling plan that she had set for herself in the midst of what was both the season for fencing and final exams. Never one for making excuses, Esteban wanted to be treated like an ordinary student: “I recall I was leaving for Bangkok from Manila on a Monday evening after my class. I arrived in Bangkok at 4 AM on Tuesday, rested for about two hours, and then went to the competition venue for my 8 AM event. Then, after the competition, I flew back to Manila that night, arriving at 6 AM. My classmate picked me up from the airport and [I] went straight to school to take my final exam in Calculus. Then, I flew back to Thailand that evening and went straight to the competition venue again for the team event.”
“Hard work and passion are utter understatements,” Esteban confessed, when asked about how she balanced her life as a student-athlete. “Sweat, blood, and tears are closer representations.”
When it comes to the life of an athlete, there have been no truer words. There is a reason why cliches exist: At fifteen, Esteban accidentally slipped while carrying three glass bottles. Her right hand, which was injured by the glass shards, tragically suffered the consequences of the fall.
“I had a freak accident which severed six pairs of tendons and two nerves on my fencing hand,” said Esteban. “To fix this, I underwent two major surgeries. My doctors said I might never regain full use of my hand.”
The doctors were right. However, Esteban persisted in fencing anyway. After a year of extensive physical therapy, she returned to competition. “Today, I still have not regained full use of my fencing hand, I still cannot fully close my fist, nor do I have the perfect grip and superior strength. I know that I never will. But I make do with what I have. I still struggle with pain from time to time, but I do my best not to let this difficulty deter me from fighting.”
Maxine Esteban is, of course, human. If there is something good that the quarantine period has done for her, it was that it allowed her to take a breath that she didn’t know she needed.
“I am happy for the extra time this pandemic gave to me,” Esteban admitted. “I was able to rest, reflect, and set my priorities right. I also was able to dabble in hobbies and passions that I had set aside due to lack of time.”
The hobbies that Esteban refers to are violin-playing and painting. Whenever she feels overwhelmed, she turns to holding the bow. “It is therapeutic for me to play my violin, especially after a full and difficult day. I come home from training before midnight, take a shower, and immerse myself in music where I find much solace. Music, for me, is the perfect haven and resting place.”
Beyond the relaxation that she finds from the hobby, however, is boundless productivity. Even at rest, Esteban is at work. Once, during the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Asian U23 Fencing Competition, she was able to accompany the Manila Concert Orchestra with a Star Wars piece.
During the more recent months, Esteban, alongside her sisters, was also able to organize an auction of oil paintings that they themselves had created to raise funds for frontliners.
“This pandemic, I discovered that I have not lost my love and talent for the arts. I am really happy about that, particularly because I was able to use my God-given talents to help. Given the opportunity, I would do it again.”
Although Esteban is not a contender for this year’s Tokyo 2021 Olympics, she has her eyes readily set for Paris 2024. She will steadily be working towards that goal with planned milestones along her path there.
One such milestone is to compete at the 2021 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games that will be held in Vietnam towards the end of the year. “My first goal is to qualify for the two individual slots available to represent the country in the women’s foil event. Then, of course, my goal is to win a medal in the SEA Games,” said Esteban.
In preparation for the event, Esteban hopes to be able to participate in training full-time, especially since ADMU had unofficially announced the upcoming school term to take place online in its entirety. This leaves her with the opportunity to train in Italy, where she has more access to advanced resources and facilities. She also looks forward to being able to compete in as many international competitions as she can to rack up experience and points for her global FIE ranking.
“My goal right now is to finish my degree in Ateneo while training abroad,” stated Esteban. “I am hoping to get a slot in the Paris 2024 Olympics.”