By Kat Ladwig
Three-time state entrant pole vaulter Max Maher wrapped up his high school career with a third-place finish in the state track and field meet a few weeks ago, and he is continuing to excel in the event this summer.
The 17-year-old qualified for the regional Junior Olympic Track and Field Meet in Aberdeen, S.D., last week after clearing yet another personal best 14-4. His previous mark of 14 feet at the state meet set the Rush City school record for the fourth time as well as a new mark for the Great River Conference.
Overcoming an obstacle
Maher began pole vaulting in seventh grade for the Tigers. He remembers Tiger upperclassmen giving pointers at the high school track, where he would start to vault for varsity a year later. By ninth grade, Maher placed regularly at meets as he continued to improve, nearing heights that could put him in the state meet the following year.
“I picked it up pretty quickly and took some pointers from the older kids,” Maher said. “I started placing right away and I just knew it was something I wanted to do. It’s fun, not like anything else I’ve done.”
But the vaulter’s plans came to a halt in March 2011 when a snowboarding accident left him with a broken L5 vertebrae and torn sacroiliac joint.
Two months later, with just a few meets under his belt, Maher did the unthinkable: He qualified for the state meet.
“It was a total surprise,” Maher said. “The previous state champion no-heighted, and I had miraculously come back from a broken back with just four to five before state.”
Leaps and bounds
Maher placed 10th in the state meet that year (2011), but wouldn’t settle there.
The Tiger standout began taking lessons at the University of Minnesota in the off season to improve his overall form. Maher learned to keep his arms big and in front of him, and became more comfortable running with the pole. He went from a 12-3 vaulter in 2011 to clearing 13-9 his junior year.
Maher qualified for the regional meet just one week after state this season while competing at St. Thomas University.
Just getting started
When the future St. Cloud State athlete isn’t pole vaulting, weight lifting or doing odd jobs for neighbors, he’s further developing his nutritional supplement company, Muscle Matter.
Maher, who plans on majoring in entrepreneurial studies, began researching nutritional supplements last year and decided to jump-start his own business out of his home. With 10-15 regular customers already, Maher hopes to keep expanding through his college career. As for pole vaulting, he is planning on competing for a long time.
“It just takes a different mind-set — it’s a different type of person,” Maher said. “Like people who used to pole vault love it and do it their whole lives. I’ve seen plenty of 60-to 70-year-olds who still pole vault, and if they can’t, they try to coach or help others out as much as they can.”
For now though, Maher will focus on preparing for the regional meet in Aberdeen, S.D., on Sunday, July 7.