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MSTCA Lou Tozzi Coaches Invitational

Rare birth defects can’t slow down Mahar’s Max Gilmore on the track

Max Gilmore of Mahar, who was born with both VATER syndrome and sacral agenesis, competes in the 100-meter dash during Saturday's MSTCA Lou Tozzi Invitational.
Max Gilmore of Mahar, who was born with both VATER syndrome and sacral agenesis, competes in the 100-meter dash during Saturday's MSTCA Lou Tozzi Invitational.Greg M. Cooper/Globe

WENHAM — Max Gilmore has a love/hate relationship with the wind.

He battled the breeze — the same one that cooled athletes on a scorching day at Gordon College — as he traveled from the javelin field to the shot put circle. “I have a problem with the wind,” Gilmore joked. “For me, it’s really annoying.”

But later Gilmore, the only athlete at the MSTCA Lou Tozzi Coaches Invitational to compete on a wheelchair, had the wind at his back, helping him earn a personal best in the 100-meter dash.

Gilmore, a junior from Mahar Regional in Orange, was born with both VATER syndrome and sacral agenesis, two rare birth defects that impact his spine and legs. Gilmore doesn’t have control of his legs or one of his hands, and has used a wheelchair his whole life. Still, he’s competed in track & field since middle school with enthusiasm and drive, making him a special teammate. That showed Saturday, when he recorded a PR 20.1 seconds in the 100-meter dash after throwing the javelin and shot put.

“Max is an inspirational kid,” Mahar assistant coach Adam Moore said. “He doesn’t let anything get in his way.”

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Doctors have told Gilmore he’s a one-in-a-million case, he said. They’d never had a patient with VATER syndrome and sacral agenesis. Still, he doesn’t want to be treated differently than everyone else, Mahar coach Sarah Woodward said. Since middle school, Gilmore’s participated in track & field, working out alongside his teammates and often doing the same drills.

He started his track & field career with the 100 meters and the shot put, but has since added the javelin and 800 — now his two favorite events. Since freshman year, Woodward said, Gilmore’s 800 time has improved by more than a minute and he’s shaved eight seconds off his 100.

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“He’s been through a lot, he’s overcome a lot of adversity,” said Woodward, who believes the Paralympic Games are a realistic goal for Gilmore.

On Saturday, Gilmore wore black Crocs on his feet while competing in the shot put, javelin and 100. He can’t use the same run-up for the javelin or spin technique for the shot put, but recorded 36.7 and 16.4 feet respectively, both consistent distances for him.

During and between events, Gilmore remained upbeat, joking around about post-meet Burger King, taking notes from shot put opponents and chatting technique with Moore. He’s still working on honing his form and repeating sound throwing motions. Gilmore and the coaching staff are also trying to experiment with his chair to allow him freer range of motion.

“His situation really doesn’t limit him,” Moore said. “He makes the most of what he’s capable of, every day out. He just doesn’t stop working. Even though he’s frustrated if it wasn’t his personal best, he’s still working on becoming better.”

Mahar's Max Gilmore competes in the shot put Saturday.
Mahar's Max Gilmore competes in the shot put Saturday.Greg M. Cooper/Globe

The 800 is likely Gilmore’s best event. In longer races, once he gains momentum, he can use the chair to his advantage. At Mahar’s most recent meet before the MSTCA, he placed second in the 800, scoring for the Senators for the first time in his high school career, Woodward said.

But this season hasn’t been totally smooth for Gilmore. In March, he felt a strange pain in his abdomen, and had to check into the emergency room. After CT scans, X-rays and MRIs, doctors discovered his brain shunt — a tube device that filters fluid that he’s had since childhood — wasn’t working properly. He underwent two brain surgeries in two weeks, taking online classes and competing in his online Super Smash Bros league from his hospital bed before returning right back to the track after checking out.

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Just three months later, with the wind at his back, Gilmore picked up steam in the 100. He fell behind the pack, but continued to push the wheels. He rolled through the finish line last, but with a new time to beat.

“Nothing slows him down,” Moore said. “Except for the complaints of the wind. He’s always having fun. Has a smile. Always glad to be there, and we’re glad to have him out there with us.”

Boston Latin's Lucy Adbow (left) pulls away from Camille Jordan of Brookline in the girls' 800 meters.
Boston Latin's Lucy Adbow (left) pulls away from Camille Jordan of Brookline in the girls' 800 meters.Greg M. Cooper/Globe
Marshfield's Jay Joyce outkicks Luke Llewellyn of Danvers and the rest of the pack to win the boys' 800 meters.
Marshfield's Jay Joyce outkicks Luke Llewellyn of Danvers and the rest of the pack to win the boys' 800 meters.Greg M. Cooper/Globe

▪ This was no tune-up meet for sprinter Jonas Clarke. While the MSTCA Coaches Invitational is one of the final meets of the year before states, it’s also the only time Clarke could get a fully automatic time in the 100, his signature event. Clarke, a junior from South Hadley, called the race the one “that mattered the most.” He said he gets nervous before every race, but nonetheless made history Saturday. His 10:45 time in the 100 is among the fastest in state history; the MSTCA lists 10.36 as the record, though that was recorded in 1981 (by Ayer’s Mike Morris) and scored by hand. Clarke doesn’t know where he’ll run in college in two years, but said Michigan, Boston University and Dartmouth have reached out.

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▪ As Brookline sophomore Camille Jordan sprinted around the track during the girls’ 800, Milton coach Larry Jordan frantically paced around the infield. “That’s my daughter!” he’d repeat. Jordan, the Brookline distance runner, held a narrow lead for the first lap, and was poised to win it all, but Boston Latin senior Lucy Abdow overtook her with about 75 meters left and edged out the win, 2:18.60 to 2:19.89. Even with a silver medal — and a personal best — it was a nice father-daughter moment for the Jordans. “Incredibly proud,” Larry said. “I ran the 800 when I was in high school, and the fact that she runs the same event, she runs very similar to me, she loves it.”

▪ Brookline’s Jamie Chamberlain, the 2019-20 Bay State Conference MVP and Boston University commit, narrowly won the long jump. She leapt 17-6½, just ½ inch more than second-place Christina DeFeudis of Algonquin. Chamberlain already holds the school record in long jump, 55H and 100H.

Katelyn Gorgenyi of North Reading surges to victory in the girls' 100-meter hurdles.
Katelyn Gorgenyi of North Reading surges to victory in the girls' 100-meter hurdles.Greg M. Cooper/Globe
Camron Ventura of Revere hits the sand hard following his leap in the long jump.
Camron Ventura of Revere hits the sand hard following his leap in the long jump.Greg M. Cooper/Globe