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Breaking Barriers essay winner true inspiration

Nine-year-old Esme Curran full of life despite heart condition
MLB.com

PHOENIX -- When Jessica Curran read her daughter Esme's essay, it brought tears to her eyes.

"It surprised me how well she was able to express what she had been through," Jessica said.

PHOENIX -- When Jessica Curran read her daughter Esme's essay, it brought tears to her eyes.

"It surprised me how well she was able to express what she had been through," Jessica said.

Added 9-year-old Esme, who is a fourth-grade student at Innovation Academy in Oro Valley, Ariz.: "I didn't lie about anything. I just said everything, pretty much."

Esme Curran was born with Single Ventricle, meaning she has just half of a heart. She wrote on the challenges of overcoming her extremely rare condition for the Breaking Barriers: In Sports, in Life Essay Contest, and she was named an MVP prize winner.

Curran received a new laptop computer, courtesy of Microsoft, and prizes for her class. She also got a round of applause from the Chase Field crowd when she was honored behind home plate before Sunday's D-backs-Padres game.

Curran has been hospitalized many times because of her condition. She's had multiple heart surgeries and many setbacks.

But she always carries a positive attitude.

"She does everything with a level of bravery that I don't think any of us adults could muster," Jessica Curran said. "She puts her best foot forward and puts a smile on her face, and she works hard and overcomes."

Video: Robinson supports Breaking Barriers Education Program

Breaking Barriers was developed by Major League Baseball, Scholastic and Sharon Robinson, the daughter of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. The essay contest encourages students to write about overcoming personal barriers through the example Jackie set forth many years ago.

Nicki Tilicki, Esme's teacher, notified the students about the essay contest in class.

"I want to win it," Tilicki recalled Esme saying at the time.

So Tilicki told Esme to read a book about Robinson, just to learn about what obstacles he overcame. Esme then compared her determination to Robinson's when she wrote the essay.

By winning, she defied the odds once again because she was selected as one of two MVP prize winners out of 13,000 entries nationwide.

"I felt amazing," Esme said. "Just wonderful. I can't exactly express the feeling."

Tilicki has seen Esme's determination firsthand.

"There are many days where she's not able to come to school because she's sick," Tilicki said. "I think she missed 22 days last quarter, which is more than half. But she still does all her homework and all her work. She perseveres.

"She's a miracle."

Though Esme is young, she and her mother hope her story can empower others to be brave through adversity.

"She has always been a kid that has beaten the odds and has been really strong in the face of huge challenges," Jessica said. "She has taught us so much, and I would be so happy to know that other kids might read her words and be inspired to fight through really hard times."

Justin Toscano is an associate reporter for MLB.com.