When Evan Stapleton was named a co-captain for the Sobrato High boys water polo team last season, he was floored. After all, it was Stapleton’s first year at the school as he spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at Valley Christian in San Jose.
“I thought that was a really nice thing to do that they were able to trust me in being a leader even though I hadn’t known them that long,” he said. “I hope to continue to be a leader this year.”
The Bulldogs, who play their season-opener with a home match on Aug. 26, return a solid nucleus including Stapleton, a burly 6-foot, 260-pound hole-set. Stapleton loves the chemistry on the team and is optimistic about the season.
“I like the team camaraderie and we’re looking to continue to improve on what we did last season, which I saw as very positive,” he said. “We got better as a team and we did a pretty good job even though we didn’t win every game.”
In addition to helping the team win as many games as possible this season, Stapleton has a lofty goal: to score six goals a game. Stapleton wouldn’t have set the bar so high had he not practiced during the off-season in the pool and in the gym at F45 Training. Stapleton said he’s increased his muscle mass while losing 15 to 20 pounds since he started training at F45 five months ago.
“They are a big contributor for me getting stronger and leaner,” he said. “I can already tell a difference in my body and mindset.”
Stapleton’s workouts are heavy on kettlebells and dumbbells including exercises that increase his core strength and enhance his physicality in the pool. Stapleton knew if he wanted to have a breakout year for his senior season, he needed to get things done in the gym because of the physical nature of playing hole-set.
“I definitely have my fair share of blows to the face and bloody noses and stuff,” he said. “I really do like the position because it’s the hardest position, but I don’t mind playing other positions, either.”
Bulldogs coach Dale Dowd complimented Stapleton on his versatility before the last Covid-shortened season began.
“Evan is a powerful leader, strong set, great shooter and a fantastic captain,” Dowd said.
From an early age, Stapleton knew nothing would come easy in life. From the time he was 3 years old to 5, Stapleton underwent 35 hours a week of different types of therapies to address his diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
It’s a diagnosis for someone who has some but not all characteristics of autism or who has relatively mild symptoms.
But due to Stapleton’s hard work and the support of his family, various teachers, advocates and therapists, the Sobrato High senior was no longer considered having PDD-NOS after age 5.
“I’m a very lucky case and I know people out there are not as lucky as I am,” Stapleton said. “My parents (Jeff and Sue) are the absolute best. They did a lot for me and I can never repay them for what they did. A big part of where I am today is because of them.”
Sue remembers his son struggling through mathematics in the fourth grade.
“Evan’s road has always been an uphill battle,” she said. “At that time, he couldn’t do the math facts. Some kids might practice them three to four times whereas he would practice them maybe 20 times to get it. He would always get it, but he had to persevere through challenges, and that is why he’s as driven as he is. The challenges he encountered helped him be conscientious of other people’s struggles and gain empathy for them.”
Sue credited some of Evan’s former teachers including Chuck Garcia and Susan Wagner who were instrumental in Evan’s development.
“Evan had some amazing teachers along his journey who really helped and pushed him to be the best he could be,” Sue said. “And that drive is still with him today and a big reason why Evan finds himself helping people today. He got the helper gene because he was so blessed to have so many amazing people in his life.”
Stapleton said the challenges he faced with PDD-NOS has been a blessing in disguise, noting he developed a lot of grit and determination as he was going through his struggles. He has needed those traits in abundance in the pool playing such a physically demanding sport.
“Going through what I’ve gone through is going to help me in the future,” he said. “I learned how to deal with tough situations and experienced lessons that I carry with me to this day.”
When Stapleton was younger, he wasn’t comfortable in his own skin.
“I definitely felt insecure for a while and at one point thought it wasn’t fair I was dealing with these challenges,” he said. “But I came to realize I’m going to have challenges and barriers I’ll need to break through for the rest of my life. Some of my great struggles happened at an early age, but they’ve made me stronger and given me a unique life story.”
Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]