Boomer Esiason’s son, a face for cystic fibrosis, proposes in the Upper Valley

  • Gunnar Esiason, a Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth student, proposes to his girlfriend Darcy Cunningham while the two ice skate on Feb. 17, 2020, at Occom Pond in Hanover, N.H. (Lars Blackmore photograph) lars blackmore photograph

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    Boomer Esiason and his son Gunnar on the cover of the October 4, 1993, issue of "Sports Illustrated."

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/18/2020 9:15:35 PM
Modified: 2/19/2020 11:15:33 AM

HANOVER — The son of a former National Football League star who has been a national figure in the fight against cystic fibrosis has gotten engaged in a public manner in the Upper Valley.

Gunnar Esiason, now a 28-year-old Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth student, proposed to his girlfriend Darcy Cunningham while the two were ice skating together Monday on Occom Pond.

Esiason carefully choreographed the proposal.

“I had a few of my friends from Tuck come to Occom Pond with us. I had a photographer staged there and … he was waiting for us. We did it pretty quickly and took some pictures afterwards,” he said.

Gunnar posted a photo of his proposal on Twitter on Monday evening and wrote, “I will love you forever.”

Gunnar’s father, Norman “Boomer” Esiason, was an NFL quarterback, mainly for the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets, and helped raise awareness about cystic fibrosis after Gunnar was diagnosed with the disease when he was 2. The pair appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1993, and Boomer Esiason also established a foundation to combat cystic fibrosis. Gunnar has served as director of patient outreach for the Maryland-based Boomer Esiason Foundation.

Speaking on WFAN sports radio Tuesday morning, Boomer Esiason said Darcy is “an amazing, amazing human being” and that the engagement was a major victory in the family’s battle against cystic fibrosis.

“I have never been so emotional after getting news like this because this is ultimately what we have been fighting for for the last 25 years,” Boomer Esiason said.

Cystic fibrosis is a chronic and frequently fatal disease of the mucus glands, and primarily affects the respiratory and digestive systems in children and young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with cystic fibrosis often have a lifespan of about 30 years, according to the CDC website.

Gunnar Esiason met Darcy Cunningham four years ago through mutual friends, and the couple moved to Hanover in July 2019 so that Esiason could pursue an MBA through the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and a master’s of public health through The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

Cunningham is a psychotherapist by training and currently works as a contract researcher for several different trauma labs around the country. She is interested in studying the intersection of chronic health issues and mental illness.

Cunningham is also Gunnar’s primary caregiver.

“People with cystic fibrosis lose some independence. We all need first-line care providers or caregivers. Darcy has taken on that role during our move to Hanover,” Esiason said. “Throughout our relationship, I trained her to be my primary caregiver (so that) if she has to administer aid or help to me during my daily treatment regimen … for her it has been a growing experience, but at the end of the day, it has really strengthened our relationship more than anything.”

Esiason said his work with cystic fibrosis and rare disease advocacy is just beginning. He hopes to use his two master’s degrees to become more involved with health policy.

“I know I’m going back to CF work (after graduation). My whole platform is that it’s important for patients living with chronic illness (and other rare diseases) to have a say in the way drug-makers and policymakers treat us,” he said.

Rohan Chakravarty can be reached at or (603) 727-3248.

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