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RH: Ridge Estes leans on family, monitors health issues

The Round House | 02/24/2023 9:30:00

Links to history

By Paul Suellentrop Brad and Mishaun Estes watched their son transform from an energetic, gut-wrenching linebacker to a seizure-ridden, overweight, oppressed boy with a feeling that his body wasn’t working. “At the worst part, the guy wouldn’t leave the house,” said Brad Estes. “The kind of misery he was in, I can’t even imagine.” On Saturday, Ridge Estes competes in the shot put for Wichita State in the American Athletic Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships in Birmingham, Ala. It’s the latest step on an extraordinary journey through two significant pitching injuries to the fore. The bout starts today (Friday) at the Birmingham Crossplex. Although the shot put is not his best event, he is in sixth place with a throw of 55 feet 5 inches entering the competition. He won the shot put at the Herm Wilson Invitational and the Air Force Lindeman Invitational and finished third in the KU-KSU-WSU triangular. Last spring, he placed second in discus (176 feet) at the outdoor conference as a freshman. “It’s been a crazy ride,” Ridge Estes said. “I was like 290 pounds, 300 pounds, 5 foot 8, coming off my eighth grade graduation.” Estes, a sophomore of Bucklin’s, occasionally takes a moment to savor Bucklin’s story. He’s 6-foot-1, 260 pounds, and in addition to these shocker accomplishments, he finished third in the USA Track and Field Under 20 Outdoor Championships in discus (196-10) last summer and is a two-time AAU discus champion. “If you’d told me when I was in the sixth grade that ‘This is where you’ll be now,’ I probably would have laughed,” he said. “I’m super happy, glad I did the steps I did in the weight room and everything to prepare for this moment.” Ridge Este’s preparation for college athletics begins with his family. His father coached him and led his strength and conditioning workouts. His uncles have provided inspiration and motivation. Brad Estes was headed to play football at Kansas before a coaching change sent him to Dodge City Community College, where he played football and threw the shot and discus. Mishaun Estes played basketball at Fort Hays State. Uncle Tad Estes pitched for Kansas. His uncle Nathan Leeper competed in the high jump for Kansas State and in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Leeper coached brothers Ridge and Talon Estes as young men, providing proof that a small-town boy can do great things. Talon Estes is a high jumper for the military.

SILVER for Freshman!! #look at us pic.twitter.com/ofA7syIA9q

— Wichita State T&F/XC (@GoShockersTFXC) May 15, 2022

“For three generations in my family, everyone on both sides have been at least college athletes and usually accomplished college athletes,” said Brad Estes. “(Ridge) had what to feed on. My brother was the oldest pitcher in our family, and he had what to chase.” Ridge Estes’ athletic career, however, was put on hold in the sixth grade after concussions sustained while playing football injured his brain and caused adrenal insufficiency. Because of the injury, his body doesn’t produce many hormones, especially cortisol, the main stress hormone in the body. “I didn’t make any hormones, because the hormone-releasing part of my brain was severed,” he said. “I went to the ER probably 15 times between my seventh grade year and graduating eighth grade. I put on weight like crazy. I ended up having seizures for about three years until they figured it out.” During those years Estes did not play sports and barely attended school due to seizures. Bucklin’s teachers worked with him at his home. His parents were looking for answers. “Completely devastating,” said Brad Estes. “For a couple of years we had no idea what he was. (Mishaun) he didn’t sleep at night. He dug and dug and read. To the right kind of doctor.” Midway through his freshman year at Bucklin High School, they found answers and a plan for their son. The drugs helped his body develop properly and controlled his seizures. “I started losing weight and taking control of my situation,” he said. “I was so tired of being heavy — I didn’t have sports on my mind at all at the time. I lost 100 pounds in nine months. I ended up weighing 179 pounds and growing to about 6 feet tall.” Football was not an option. He tried basketball. Track and field, his family’s sport and one he excelled at as a youth, presented itself as the best option. He learned to love the weight room, helped by his father’s teachings and motivated by three years of inactivity. “I was tired of being weak,” he said. “I’m going to pick a sport I can be strong in and I’m going to choose my path. I left high school at about 225 pounds.” He took aim at college athletics, only to find more obstacles. COVID-19 cut short his junior season, depriving him of a chance to attract the attention of college coaches. He broke a bone in his back deadlifting the day before his first senior fight in 2021. He competed that spring, skipping fights to rest and altering his form to reduce pain. He placed second in the Kansas Class 1A Track and Field meet at Cessna Stadium with throws of 164-3 in the discus and 52-2 ¼ in the shot put. “I needed votes,” he said. “I competed on a lot of ibuprofen and in extreme pain. We finally managed to get some good grades.” That paid off that summer as Estes traveled to Humble, Texas to compete in the AAU National Championships. As the family headed south, Wichita State pitch coach John Hetzendorf called in to offer a roster spot. “It’s all been struggles,” said Brad Estes. “When he got that phone call, he took the world off his shoulders.” Ridge Estes remembers that moment well. All the injuries and stresses, all the expectations and hopes that a college would pay attention have been swept away. The pandemic has worked against him because so many athletes have clogged the system with a year of COVID eligibility. His father credits Danny Butterfield of the Pony Express Track Club with telling the Wichita State coaches they would regret passing Ridge. “That took a lot of weight off my shoulders,” he said. “Nobody was looking for jocks at the time, especially if you were throwing under 200 feet into the discus. Nobody really wanted you.” Brad Estes attributes his success and tenacity as a son to those days and his desire to overcome the barriers presented by health and COVID. “He felt like he was capable of competing at the Division I college level,” said Brad Estes. “He had a lot to prove. He still feels like he has something to prove.” Estes won the 17-18 age group discus at Texas by shooting 184-6. His back continued to bother him and it took him until he arrived at Wichita State in the fall of 2021 before rehab began in earnest. He spent his first few months rehabbing at WSU and lost his first two indoor fights of his freshman season. Late in the indoor season, he improved and finished ninth in conference shooting with a season-best shooting of 48-11. As his health and form improved, Estes competed in the discus in eight outdoor meets and finished in the top five in all-around. At the All-American meet, he scored eight points with his second-place finish to help the Shockers win the conference title. “He has a quick shot,” Hetzendorf said. “The discus is a technical event. But you have to have the arm. Some athletes can just whip it. He’s still developing as a technical thrower, but he had a good natural whip and feel for the disc.” Estes’ natural ability and desire to work bonded with Hetzendorf. “I don’t know if I could ask for a better coach,” Estes said. “He knows the corrections I have to make. He doesn’t force it on you. To be the best pitcher you can be, you have to be autonomous, so have someone like Coach Hetzendorf to guide you.” All of Estes’ wounds and experiences have guided him through this part of his life. He played a significant role as a freshman on a conference championship team. He is ninth on Wichita State’s career discus list after one season. He is a two-time member of the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world, because I’ve learned a lot of lessons,” he said.

2⃣1⃣ points for the discus team! #look at us pic.twitter.com/HxJedLhq5J

— Wichita State T&F/XC (@GoShockersTFXC) May 15, 2022

Paul Suellentrop writes about Wichita State Athletics for University Strategic Communications. Story hint? Contact him at [email protected].

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