Recovering physically but mind-ready, Esteban takes first steps to Paris 2024
Sometime in 2018, Maxine Esteban endured a 36-hour trip to South America to compete in the Junior World Cup in Guatemala.
Once she got to the venue, she performed what has become a ritual for her—searching out the Philippine flag.
“I don’t know, I just have this habit of checking out our flag each time I am in a tournament,” Esteban said. “I think it’s the sense of pride or maybe it is a sight of relief from being too far away from home.”
It’s not just a cursory check. She inspects how the flag is hung: “We were taught in school that when hung horizontally, the blue should be on top. When hung vertically, the red should be on the right side.”
Noticing the flag’s absence in the tournament venue, she told organizers about it. The following day, Esteban said she was happy that organizers “produced our flag and had hung it quite perfectly.” Lucky for the tournament, too, as Esteban finished on the podium and it would have been a diplomatic snafu had she received her medal without the flag behind her.
Esteban hopes to perform that routine—and more—in Paris, during the 2024 Olympics.
“That has always been my dream,” she said of representing in the Summer Games.
But the journey is long and arduous and to kick it off, the country’s top-ranked fencer globally will embark on a backbreaking journey that will feature as many as 15 tournaments all over Europe in the first half of 2023. And she will do so coming off an injury that sidelined her for the latter part of 2022.
Esteban began that journey by flying to Italy on Wednesday to prepare for her first event, the World Cup in Paris that will start on Jan. 12.
“My main goal for participating in this tournament is for me to get a feel of the action again,” said Esteban, who is being mentored by Andrea Magro—who guided fencing legend Valentina Vezzali of Italy, owner of six Olympic gold medals. “Since I am not yet past the ‘safe’ period, I know that mentally, I will be making controlled movements making sure that I do not make any sudden careless movements.”
Esteban, who tore her left anterior cruciate ligament while representing the country in the World Championships in Egypt in July last year, has spent the last five months of 2022 undergoing a tough rehabilitation process in an attempt to shorten the time it normally takes for athletes to recuperate from such an injury.
“I wanted to be back as soon as I can, plus time is of the essence since the Olympic qualifiers are just around the corner. I need to be ready by then,” she said.
And while her knee is close to good as new, she understands that she needs to be in the perfect mind space as she makes a run for an Olympic berth.
“Mentally, I am raring to go,” she said. “I have been sidelined far too long—in my opinion—and I would love to be doing what I love the most.”
“The most important thing that I want to achieve from this tournament is to cancel out the psychological and mental ‘fear’ that athletes have after returning to sports,” Esteban added. “I want to fence without thinking about my newly reconstructed ligament, but at the same time, I want to fence moderately.”
After the World Cup, she will be participating in another tournament in France before flying to Italy to resume her training and compete in the 2023 Grand Prix in Turin.
“I am hoping to be able to regain my pre-injury form by this time,” she said.
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