CARLSBAD — At first glance, 9-year-old Max Wilson appears to be just a regular kid, but underneath his friendly demeanor is a running superstar.
In 2011, this young athlete secured three national titles and set a new record for the fastest track time in the country for the 9 to 10 age group.
Max’s Carlsbad home is laden with awards and medals. Last year, he competed in more than 20 races and snagged national first place wins in the USATF Youth National Outdoor Track & Field Championships, IronKids US Championships, and USATF National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships.
In order to get to the national level he had to excel regionally. And he did just that.
Max and his running shoes have traveled all over North County and across state lines to South Carolina twice and Iowa to compete in the national championships.
Max’s family members, such as his uncles and grandparents, have helped sponsor these trips, too. Their financial generosity has enabled Max to reach for the gold.
A fourth-grade student at Carrillo Elementary School, Max has a penchant for cross country. He likes the practices more and enjoys the longer runs. Max also has a fine-tuned strategy in place.
“At the start you really want to get ahead of everyone,” he said. “Because if there are a lot of people and it narrows up into a short space you want to be ahead of it.” For Max, a fast start is everything to stay clear of any bottlenecking and keeping a good, strong pace throughout the middle of the race is essential.
Toward the end of the race, Max said, he gives it his all and generally sprints the last 500 meters give or take. That decision is based on where the other competing runners are.
At the beginning of the race, right before the starter gun sounds, Max said his nerves rev up. But once he starts hoofing the course, he said that nervous energy transforms into a competitive drive.
“And there’s also a song that plays in my mind,” he said. “It’s Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Crazy Train.’” Thanks to Osbourne’s adrenalin rush, hard rock song, Max keeps the running pace to the beat of the tune.
Max has his eye on some future 2012 goals. “I would like to defend my titles and do all those races again and faster,” he said. “And maybe add in some more.”
According to Max’s mother, Tina, there are no official “runners” in the family. She said she thinks what her son accomplished last year amazing.
“I’m excited for him because he worked really, really hard,” Tina Wilson said.
His passion for running, she said, started at Carrillo Elementary School’s running club. Students were invited to run the 1-mile concrete loop around the campus. In first grade, Max took to it immediately.
“Max was into collecting a little plastic foot charm for every five miles,” she said. “He thought it was the coolest thing — he just ran lap after lap to get those charms.”
By Christmas break, Max ran 100 miles; at the end of the first grade school year he tallied 414 miles. From there, he beat his own miles in the following years and began entering local races.
In the fall of 2010, Max went under the mentoring wing of head coach Mike Mena of the San Diego SoCal RoadRunners, a youth running club based in Escondido. The club holds numerous national team titles and trains national runners.
“He’s a really hard coach,” said Max, referring to Mena. “He yells, but he’s nice and really fun, too.”
After coaching for 18 years, Mena describes Max’s talent as a phenomenon.
“Max’s future is endless,” Mena said, adding that his progression must be careful to find the right balance. For example, Mena is very selective in what races Max runs.
“Max is a good listener, I tell him how to run, and he does exactly what I ask him to do,” Mena said. “He is a bright and intelligent runner.”