By Jeremy McDonald
TURNER, Ore.–Esther would have been 22 on October 3, 2017.
Esther would have been just entering her junior year at Corban University and playing Volleyball on a full-ride scholarship for the Warriors of Salem.
About two years ago, the 2014 Cascade-graduate had been battling back issues as she prepared for her first season as a Corban Volleyball player, only to find out she had Stage IV alverolar rhabdomyosarcoma through a strange accident just sitting down and her back giving out that led to discovery of a tumor in in her back.
Rhabdomysacroma is a cancer that effects the cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles, the voluntary muscles that we consciously control on our own. Alverolar Rhabdomyosarcoma affects that in the trunk, arms and legs with the large muscles in those areas.
Those who knew her were stunned of the diagnosis, but people like her High School Coach knew she would battle and would succeed in her efforts in beating the disease.
“My first thought, just from the person she is, she’s going to beat this, there’s no doubt in my mind that she was going to beat it,” said Cristina Williams on Esther Suelzle-Ybarra.
Esther would go on to defeat the cancer the first-time around, succeeding in her battle with that dreaded ‘C’-word that no one wishes on anyone.
But, once they thought the worse was over, Esther, her husband and her family got the dreaded news once more. The cancer had come back, and sadly, Esther passed away on July 24, 2017 at the age of 21, fighting until the very end in trying to defeat this horrible disease.
“It was hard, it was hard to hear the day that she passed away and being at her service and everything, you never want one of your players to go before you or to deal with that,” said Williams. “I just want my girls to understand, it’s not about volleyball, it’s about living your life and that’s how she did it and she was an amazing person and wonderful and kind to everyone and that’s what I want my girls to do and strive to be the best person they can be.”
A little over two-months after her passing, her coach and the Cougar Volleyball team, in possibly the final Volleyball showdown between Cascade and Stayton, the Lady Cougars honored their own.
“That was the biggest thing is that we wanted to do it for Esther. Having Esther, she was a dream player to coach,” said Williams. “She had the best work ethic and I was very fortunate that her dad gave me this motivational thing she wrote right before her senior year when she didn’t know about cancer, but her back was hurting her.
“So I got to read that to the girls about how’s it’s a blessing to touch the ball, how it’s a blessing to be out there and just that the motivation that she had and I wanted the girls to understand that too.”
On the court this Tuesday evening, five-years after her cousin was a senior on the court in the Fall of 2013 and now a senior herself, was Tori Lewis.
Lewis remembers watching her cousin play and seeing how Esther was a leader on the court, cared about her teammates, etc. and now that it’s her turn as a Cougar Volleyball player, is trying to emulate what her cousin did all those years ago.
“When I would go and watch her, she would always be encouraging to her team, be excited for her teammates when they did really good on a hit or something and so it was really inspiring to be that cheerful and always happy player,” said Lewis, who was lighting up with pride talking about her cousin Tuesday night.
As they took-in the words that Esther had during her senior year that Williams read out-loud, Cascade, wearing pink jersey tops with a cancer ribbon in the right corner, went to battle against a Lady Eagles team who are looking to earn a playoff spot as both teams start the second-half of the Oregon West Conference-league season.
Stayton rallied from 21-18 down to take Set one 26-24 with the Lady Cougars battling through the injury bug in-game, but Cascade grind out a Set 25-22 win to tie up the match at one before turning on the jets in sets three and four 25-12, 25-19 respectively.
“The girls have a mental toughness to be fighters and they showed that tonight,” said Williams on how the girls responded after that first set. “We had those injuries, we had a lot of distractions, we’ve had Homecoming this week, so it’s a lot of distractions today and they pulled it together, they kept the focus and what our goal was and they came through tonight.”
As they went to the side of the gym with the flags of the OWC-teams and did a team-unity thing that finished with them saying, ‘Esther’.
“It was pretty cool with the kind of player she was, she played for her teammates. She was selfless and she was so dedicated to the sport and so we just wanted to play like Esther tonight and play for her,” said Lewis on honoring her cousin in the fashion the did that night.
Esther would have been 22 on October 3, 2017, but her memory lives on through those who knew her.
They’ll remember the team leader she was on the court with her teammates. They’ll remember the type of person she was off-the-court and in life in general with the fighting spirit she had until the end. They’ll remember to enjoy life and be happy and joyful as she was when she was alive.
And as Esther’s family walks over to take a picture with the team following the win, she’ll live-on and will be alive in the hearts of those who knew her during this lifetime.
“She taught me never to give up and just to keep fighting. Just always be happy, no matter the circumstance that your in, just be happy and joyful and live life to the fullest,” said Lewis.
“Just being with her family, her family is amazing, they’re supportive, their always…every single time we played, they were all here, supporting Esther and the team,” said Williams of Esther. “So having them here, supporting us and so for us to honor them, it was wonderful and I’ll cherish this moment forever and always cherish her.”