March 26, 2023

Healthy About Liver

Masters of Health

RH: Ridge Estes Leans on Family, Track During Health Issues

RH: Ridge Estes Leans on Family, Track During Health Issues

The RoundHouse | 2/24/2023 9:30:00 AM

 By Paul Suellentrop
Brad and Mishaun Estes watched their son change from an energetic, instinctive linebacker to a child plagued with seizures, overweight and burdened with a feeling that his body didn’t work.
“At the height of the worst part of it, the kid would not leave the house,” Brad Estes said. “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 is the latest step in a remarkable path through two significant injuries to prominence in the throws. The meet begins today (Friday) at the Birmingham Crossplex.
While the shot put is not his best event, he ranks sixth 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 placed third in the KU-KSU-WSU Triangular.
Last spring, he placed second in the discus (176 feet) at the conference outdoor meet as a freshman.
“It’s been a crazy journey,” Ridge Estes said. “I was like 290 pounds, 300 pounds, 5-foot-8, coming out of my eighth-grade graduation.”
Estes, a sophomore from Bucklin, occasionally takes a moment to savor his story. He is 6-foot-1, 260 pounds and, in addition to this Shocker accomplishments, finished third in the USA Track and Field Under-20 Outdoor Championships in the discus (196-10) last summer and is a two-time AAU discus champion.
“If you had told me when I was a sixth grader that ‘This is where you’re going to be now,’ I probably would have laughed,” he said. “I’m super-happy, glad I took the steps I did in the weight room and everything to prepare myself for this moment.”
Ridge Estes preparation for college track and field starts with his family. His father coached him and guided his strength and conditioning workouts. His uncles 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 threw for Kansas.
Nathan Leeper, his uncle, competed in the high jump for Kansas State and in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Leeper coached brothers Ridge and Talon Estes as youngsters, providing proof that a small-town kid can do big things. Talon Estes is a high jumper for Army.

“For three generations in my family, everybody on both sides have been at least college athletes, and usually accomplished college athletes,” Brad Estes said. “(Ridge) had that to feed on. My brother was the greatest of the throwers in our family, and he had that to chase.”
Ridge Estes’ athletic career, however, was put on hold in sixth grade after concussions suffered while playing football injured his brain and caused adrenal insufficiency. Because of the injury, his body doesn’t produce several hormones, most prominently cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone.
“I didn’t produce any hormones, because the part that release hormones in my brain was severed,” he said. “I was in the ER probably 15 times between my seventh-grade year and eighth-grade graduation. I put on weight like crazy. I ended up having seizures for like three years until they figured it out.”
For those years, Estes did not play sports and barely attended school because of the seizures. Bucklin teachers worked with him at his home. His parents searched for answers.
“Completely devastating,” Brad Estes said. “For a couple years we had no idea what it even was. (Mishaun) didn’t sleep nights. She dug in and dug in and read. We kept asking questions until we finally stumbled upon a reason, and then we could tie that to the right kind of doctor.”
Midway through his freshman year at Bucklin High School, they found answers and a plan for their son. Medication helped his body develop properly and controlled the seizures.
“I started to lose weight and take control of my situation,” he said. “I was so tired of being heavy – I didn’t have sports in mind at the time at all. I lost 100 pounds in nine months. I ended up being 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 youngster, presented itself as the best option. He learned to love the weight room, helped by his father’s instruction, and motivated by three years of inactivity.
“I was tired of being weak,” he said. “I’ll pick a sport I can be strong at and choose my own way. I left high school at about 225 pounds.”
He targeted college track and field, only to find more obstacles.
COVID-19 halted his junior season, depriving him of a chance to grab the attention of college coaches.
He fractured a bone in his back doing dead lifts the day before his first meet as a senior in 2021. He competed that spring, skipping meets to rest, and altering his form to reduce the 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 marks,” he said. “I competed on lots of Ibuprofen and in extreme pain. We were able to finally get some good marks.”
That paid off that summer when Estes traveled to Humble, Texas to compete in the AAU National Championships. While the family drove south, Wichita State coach throws coach John Hetzendorf called to offer a spot on the roster.
“It was all struggles,” Brad Estes said. “When he got that phone call, it took the world off his shoulders.”
Ridge Estes remembers that moment well. All the injuries and stress, all the waiting and hoping for a college to pay attention washed away. The pandemic worked against him because so many athletes clogged the system with a COVID year of eligibility. His father credits Danny Butterfield of the Pony Express Track Club with telling Wichita State coaches they would regret passing on Ridge.
“That took a lot of weight off my shoulders,” he said. “No one was looking for athletes at the time, especially if you were throwing under 200 feet in the discus. Nobody really wanted you.”
Brad Estes attributes his son’s success and persistence to those days and his desire to overcome the barriers presented by health and COVID.
“He felt like he was capable of competing at a Division I college level,” Brad Estes said. “He had a lot to prove. He still sort of feels like he’s got something to prove.”
Estes won the meet 17-18 age-group discus in Texas with a throw of 184-6. His back continued to bother him, and it took until his arrival at Wichita State in the fall of 2021 before rehabilitation started in earnest. He spent his early months at WSU rehabbing and missed the first two indoor meets of his freshman season.
Late in the indoor season, he improved and finished ninth in the shot in the conference meet with a season-best throw of 48-11.
With his health and form improving, Estes competed in the discus in eight outdoor meets and placed in the top five in all. At the American meet, he scored eight points with his second-place finish to help the Shockers win the conference title.
“He’s got a whippy strike,” Hetzendorf said. “Discus is a technical event. But you’ve got to have the arm. Some athletes just can whip it. He’s still developing as a technical thrower, but he had a good natural whip and feel for the discus.”
Estes’ natural ability and desire to work meshed with Hetzendorf.
“I don’t know if I could ask for a better coach,” Estes said. “He knows the corrections I need to make. He doesn’t force it on you. To be the best possible thrower, you have to be self-driven, then have somebody like Coach Hetzendorf to guide you.”
All of Estes’ injuries and experiences guided him to 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.

Paul Suellentrop writes about Wichita State athletics for university Strategic Communications. Story suggestion? Contact him at [email protected]