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23-year-old Filipina pursues her Olympic dream in Paris

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By Veronica Uy
Photos from Estaban Family

Maxine Esteban, 23, has only two dreams: To be an Olympian and to represent the Philippines. The Ateneo De Manila University and University of Pennsylvania (summa cum laude in Communications) alumna is fulfilling half of her ambition. In July, the full-blooded Filipina fencer is going to Paris to represent Ivory Coast.

“Going to the Olympics, I just want to enjoy the moment because this is my first Olympics. I just want to make my parents proud and everyone who believes in me proud. Going to the Olympics, there’s not much pressure on me and I think that’s a good thing,” she says in a chitchat with various media practitioners last Friday before flying to Germany for training.

From the time she was 12, Maxine has excelled in the sport.

In fencing, she has been an eight-time national champion, and Rookie of the Year and MVP (most valuable player) of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP). Ateneo has awarded her many times, including the Lady Eagle of the Year when she was a freshman.

She has continuously moved up the world ranking, now at number 35. Before graduating from the junior category, she was ranked 16.

Today, Maxine is the only Filipino fencer who has ever won a medal (bronze) in the Junior World Cup (in Guatemala in 2018) and medals in the Senior Satellite World Cup. She is also much bemedalled in the European Under-23 Circuit.

Expectedly, she did not have a regular life of young person. She has to consistently work on excelling at the sport with “the grace of a woman and the strength of a man,” fencing’s attraction to her.

She has undergone three major surgeries, two on her fencing hand, and one on her knee while fencing for the Philippines in the Senior World Championship in Cairo, Egypt in 2022.

Every day, during school days, she practiced at least three hours: fencing techniques with her coach, strength trainings, and sparring matches. On weekends, she competes.

“When I was in college, I’m always not available [to classmates] because I almost always have competition. Growing up, that was one of the biggest challenges in my social life. Also, it’s very hard to balance studies and fencing—to excel in academics and also to be a world-class fencer,” Maxine says.

“Management Engineering [in Ateneo] was a bit tough. When I was in Ateneo, I usually got my competition on Saturday or Sunday. So I would leave like early after my class on Friday. I would just go to the competition in Europe. [That’s] 12 hours’ [flight]. I would arrive Friday night or Saturday morning. Usually the competition is Sunday. Right after the competition, I have to leave, so I can be on time to attend my class. Because in Ateneo, they are very strict with the attendance. You can only be absent three times,” she adds.

But moving to another country so she can train under the best coaches was the toughest for her.

“I think the biggest hardship that I faced was being away from my family. Because I’m very close to my family. And it was really hard. I was super lonely to be alone in a foreign country, not to be with anyone that I’m really close to,” Maxine says.

The Road to Paris

From the time Ivory Coast took her in, Maxine has been joining tournaments, not just to get more points to qualify in the Olympics but also to gain more experience and be stronger for the great games.

“I’m joining all the World Cups and Grands Prix, all the federation competitions,” she says.

Leaving the Philippine fencing team wasn’t an easy decision, but this millennial knows what she wants and how to get it.

On June 2022, she suffered a knee injury and wrote the federation about taking a six-month leave for the surgery and recovery. On the fourth month, she found out that she had been unceremoniously taken out of the roster. She was surprised. She has always been in the top four Filipina fencers (four is also the number of slots for the Olympics). Why wasn’t she informed?

Several times, Maxine wrote the federation and asked about the reasons for their decision. She only got one response, but no explanation. But instead of moping around, together with her ever-supportive parents, she looked for a country that would welcome her for the Olympics qualifiers.

Ivory Coast was the first country to respond, and she immediately grabbed the chance to fulfill her Olympian dream.

“The Olympics was just around the corner…I just moved forward because an athlete doesn’t get younger. You also get older. I don’t want to wait. I can’t wait five more years. There’s so much sacrifice—not just my time but also my parents’. I’m also wasting their time and resources. 2024, I knew I was ready for the Paris Olympics. I wanted to do something about it,” she says.

Maxine continues to feel proud as a Filipino.

When she represented the Philippines in competitions abroad, she would always make sure that there’s a Filipino flag. She would badger the organizers if there were none.

That patriotic fervor has not left her.

“There’s always going to be a Filipino inside of me. You can’t remove that from me. I will always be Filipino in my heart. Going to the Olympics, I think I play a special role because I get so much support from both the Philippines and the Ivory Coast,” she says.

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