Gateway: Sports

Peninsula High’s Esser has battled through a rare disease to continue playing tennis for Seahawks

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Maverick Esser is not going to let anyone tell him what his limitations are. No matter the challenges he has faced, only he is going to be the one to say what he can and cannot do. It’s something that has defined him both as a competitor for the Peninsula High School tennis team as a person, from a young age to his now senior year.

Esser’s attitude stems from the fact that he’s had to overcome a rare disease to continue playing and living and full and normal life. It’s called Trevor’s disease.

“It’s a one in a million bone disease so it’s not very common at all,” Esser said.

Trevor’s disease, or Dysplasia Epiphysealis Hemimelica (DEH), is typically characterized by asymmetric overgrowth of cartilage in the epiphyses.

The epiphyses is the end part of the long bone. The most common symptom is restricted range of motion and onset primarily occurs during childhood.

“My parents noticed it when it was I was about three or four,” Esser said. “They noticed something was wrong with my ankle. We went to numerous doctors, all sorts of different specialists.”

Growing up with this, Esser was told that there was the possibility that this may impact his ability to not only walk but also to compete at the levels he wanted to.

But he determined early on that he wasn’t going to let it hold him back.

“That was a big point in my life. I wanted to prove them wrong and show that I could be really competitive in sports and compete at a high level,” Esser said. “I didn’t want anyone telling me what I could and couldn’t do.”

Even with that fierce commitment and spirit, that journey has been a long one, as he has an extended history from the initial diagnosis to now.

“It first occurred in my ankle and so my ankle is almost 100 percent locked where I don’t have flexion,” Esser said. “That freshman year we noticed in it my knee and so it caused some deterioration of the cartilage and bone spurs that grow out of my knee causing the messed up tendons and tore my meniscus.”

That required a surgery known as an osteochondral allograft transfer (OATS) from a doctor that they sought out.

“He took a little sliver of bone with cartilage attached from a cadaver and put that into my knee to fix up the area and make it all smooth,” Esser said.

It wasn’t over yet though, as Esser then had to come back for a followup surgery due to additional complications with the first surgery.

“The second surgery was the same thing,” Esser said. “With the OATS there is a chance your body won’t accept it.”

However, this time it was only a partial OATS procedure and he was ready for more of what was to happen.

“The second surgery was a partial OATS procedure where I had half of the area redone, resmoothed, and then I also had the meniscus refixed,” Esser said. “I was a lot more used to it, I knew what to expect. I knew what the recovery would be like and the work I had to put in to get my body better and healthy.”

What was that recovery like? It was a gradual but long process.

“For the first month I was in crutches and couldn’t put any pressure,” Esser said. “And then I knew once the crutches were off I was allowed to fully start walking.”

From there, it was all about putting in the time in physical therapy and his own workouts as much as he could. Esser went to two different physical therapists in Gig Harbor two to three times per week.

“And then just a lot of my own work at home with constant going to the gym and getting the strength back in my legs,” Esser said.

His gym workouts covered a whole gambit of different exercises.

“There were a whole bunch. It ranged from just wrapping the weights on my ankles to doing small leg lifts into natural movements so I could get flexion back into my knee and be able to start walking well again,” Esser said. “Then we moved into lots of band work. The biggest thing was just biking. I biked all the time because the big thing about the biking is it was able to break up the scar tissue and get my knee going again so when I went back to jogging again it would be good.”

Through all of that, Esser wanted to bring attention to the disease and how he has worked to overcome it despite the challenges it has brought.

“I would like to get a little more exposure on it,” Esser said. “The only two people I could find online actually had to have their leg amputated and so lucky for me my condition isn’t that bad but I always knew that running might be a problem for me when I’m older.”

Even with that potentially daunting possibility, he hasn’t let it get to him and has always focused on being the best he can be.

“I never wanted to let that get in the way of me and I’m very lucky to be able to run and do all the sports I love,” Esser said. “The big thing with me is I always love to be active and I knew putting in all the extra work in therapy and workouts, I was going to be able to do the things I love.”

That extra effort has paid off as he now is going into his senior year of playing singles tennis, which is something that he enjoys thoroughly.

”Singles is real fun for me,” Esser said. “I prefer singles.”

Perhaps that preference comes from his strong independence and ability to bounce back when the going gets tough, something he is more than familiar with.

“If I get down, I’m able to pick myself up easily,” Esser said. “I like being able to choose what shots I’m doing.”

Esser didn’t only play tennis, he also played baseball his sophomore year at Peninsula after having to sit out his freshmen year due to his knee surgery. He had a strong season in that sport before switching to tennis.

“Baseball was my main sport. I had played ever since I was very young,” Esser said. “My sophomore year I did play. I got MVP of JV and I also got the silver slugger award for that season.”

Esser was planning to keep going with that sport, but his second surgery left him with some tough choices to make about what was best for him moving forward.

“I was going to continue playing baseball but of course I had the second knee surgery so this past year I took up golf in the spring,” Esser said. “It’s primarily tennis and golf now. With my knee it got real hard just having to manage all the time traveling and all that.”

Part of this is due to the fact that it’s his final year of high school and he is committed to making the most of his team that he has left.

“Due to it being senior year my focus is just fully on tennis and then once that’s over I’ll get ready for the golf season,” Esser said.

That choice to give up baseball, even if he knew it was the right one for him, wasn’t an easy one for him to make as he had to leave behind the sport he had played all his life.

“It’s bittersweet,” Esser said. “It was sad the day I had to decide not to play it anymore but like with all things I just found another thing to make me happy, another sport to compete with.”

That positive attitude to just roll with life’s punches has served him well especially since he didn’t leave behind all he had learned in baseball and was able to use what he had learned in his new sport. “There is actually a lot of transferable skills,” Esser said. “Number one just being the eye-hand coordination.”

This transferring comes from baseball being a sport where it’s all about making solid contact only with a much smaller instrument you’re using to do so. “You’re going from baseball having to hit the same size ball but with such a thin barrell and it’s coming so fast and can be moving different ways,” Esser said. “So transferring it to tennis it makes it a lot easier to make solid contact and always get the racket on the ball.”

Last year, Esser was on the edge of making it to state as a singles alternate but then had to play teammate Matthew Mehlert to get in, a match that he ended up losing.

“It was sort of funny because how it came down to it is I had to play Matthew,” Esser said. “The winner of that got to go play another match to get in.”

There weren’t any hard feelings about that loss as he has now spent this year working hard with his teammate for them both to get better.

“It was a fun competition,” Esser said. “The goal for this year is to not even be alternate at all. It would just be able to make it straight in. That’s what Matthew and I have been working hard to get.”

He has high aspirations for his team as well and hopes to see them make a solid run at state even while keeping up his own solid play. “Tennis this year, we’re really gunning for state and I want to try to stay undefeated as I am so far this year,” Esser said.

Only time will tell if these efforts pay off, but no matter what he has a lot to be proud of with all that he has accomplished.

He also has aspirations in addition to sports as that desire to succeed extends to all aspects of his life ahead from college and beyond.

“The school I’m really interested in is Montana State in Bozeman, Montata,” Esser said. “I want to pursue my academics. I want to become an architect.”

Even as competitive sports in college are not part of the equation, the passion that he had for his sports extends to his dream job as well.

What does that job look like for him after that degree? He has a pretty good idea.

“When I finish that then my goal is to become an architect to be able to help bring new designs,” Esser said. “Creating efficient buildings that will be able to sustain themselves.”

One thing is certain, if Esser brings the same work ethic and passion that he has brought to his sports in overcoming all the challenges life has thrown at him, he will continue to surpass any limitations that are put in his way.

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