Gunnar Esiason at 30: 'It still just kind of amazes me every single day when I wake up'
Gunnar Esiason turned 30 in 2021. And earned an MBA degree. And got married. And welcomed a son. That’s a heck of a year for most people. For Esiason, it would have been unfathomable until recently.
“Five years ago, if you would have told me that’s what my life would look like in five years, I would have smacked you across the face,” he told Newsday. “I think the fact that I’m living that now, really, it still just kind of amazes me every single day when I wake up.”
Esiason and his father, former NFL MVP and current WFAN host Boomer Esiason, have been among the nation’s most visible faces of cystic fibrosis since Gunnar was diagnosed as a toddler.
Boomer has raised funds and awareness through his Boomer Esiason Foundation, of which Gunnar now is executive vice president, and Gunnar has exemplified living better and longer with CF than was possible when he was born.
The latest illustration of both will come on Saturday night, when the Riptide host Cystic Fibrosis Night at Nassau Coliseum for their National Lacrosse League game against Philadelphia. Proceeds will benefit BEF.
The relationship between the foundation and the Riptide began last year with a tie-in to Riptide IPA beer from the Westhampton Beach Brewing Company, with a portion of proceeds from beer sales going to the foundation.
“For the Riptide to be hosting a Cystic Fibrosis Night is really kind of awesome,” Esiason said. “We take great pride in being a Long Island organization, first and foremost. So it’s kind of a perfect little marriage.”
Rich Lisk, president of the Riptide, said joining a Long Island lacrosse team, a Long Island beer and a Long Island-based foundation was a natural for the team.
“What [the Esiasons] have done not just nationally but also here on Long Island is the most inspirational thing that I’ve ever been involved with,” Lisk said.
Gunnar said the event is one example of an ongoing effort to keep the disease and foundation front and center publicly.
“My dad is further and further from his football career,” Gunnar said. (Boomer retired after the 1997 season.) “This is a great way for the organization to stay relevant, but also a great way for Long Island organizations to partner with each other.”
The prospects for most people with CF have improved dramatically in recent years thanks to a drug called Trikafta.
Boomer called it a “miracle” in an interview with Newsday last year and said of Gunnar, “It’s like his life has been totally unlocked.”
Gunnar has embraced that, going to business school at Dartmouth’s Tuck School, marrying Darcy Cunningham last summer and celebrating the birth of his son, Kaspar, in December. Best of all, that sort of path no longer is unusual for people with CF.
“It is a sign of immense progress for our population,” he said. “Our family has been at the center of it, but it’s really not a unique journey whatsoever. It’s just a remarkable testament of progress. I think what I was able to achieve, at least in 2021, is a sign of that.”
Esiason credits his “rock star wife” for easing the transition to parenthood, which he called “a wonderful joy ride.”
“It’s crazy,” he said. “Every time I look at him, it’s sort of like seeing a part of myself that I never imagined I’d actually see.”
Esiason expects to complete a Master of Public Health degree at Dartmouth this spring, after which the family likely will return to the New York area.
“We absolutely loved our time in New Hampshire and we’re deeply going to miss it,” he said, then added, “I would be lying to you if I told you that we were not getting pressure to move closer to home. I think everyone wants grandchild time, including my wife’s parents.”
In February, Gunnar’s father drove through a blizzard to see Kaspar for the first time.
“It’s amazing the lengths grandparents will go through to meet the grandkids,” Gunnar said, “and also lobby for their access to grandkids moving forward.”
Boomer Esiason has been a public figure since he was a teenager, but Gunnar could have chosen a different path. Instead, he has embraced his public role, too.
“The fact we’re able to provide some sort of microphone or voice is important,” he said. “It’s something my dad held deeply very early on, something I was exposed to very early on as well, and something I just loved doing.”
So much so that the business, administration and science of health has been his educational focus, and figures to be a professional one moving forward.
“I can honestly tell you that I don’t operate in a world that’s nearly as exciting as sports,” he said. “But to me, it’s fun, and I do love the health industry as much as anyone. It’s the reason I’m alive.”