SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – Most parents figure out that it is nearly impossible to dictate a passion for their child to follow. It has to come from within and if it does, nothing can stop it.

Max Goodman, a 15-year old soon-to-be John Jay High School freshman from South Salem, discovered his love for running over the past few years and embraced the sport with a genuine zest while proving himself a budding local talent.

Back in grade-school, Max participated in the “Rising Stars” running program, a non-competitive team created by Kelsey DeRaffele, an avid runner who was then a John Jay High School student. She had a vision to gather students in the community with differences and varying abilities and through running, provide them with a social outlet as well as an athletic one.

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Max was diagnosed at age 2 with PDD-NOS, which describes a subgroup on the autism spectrum; he did not speak until the age of 4. He was one of the first students to join Kelsey’s Rising Stars group. She watched him blossom as a runner and recalls the excitement and joy he brought to the team.

“Max is so vibrant and would run through the finish line with his arms up screaming, but he would never say that he was the winner; he would share his winnings with the whole team and cheered everybody else on,” she said.

His running ability became more apparent in seventh and eighth grade when he ranked in several meets, coming in second place out of 178 runners in a Somers Modified Invitational in 2017. But, it was on May 28, 2018, at the South Salem Memorial Day 5K, that Max not only surprised himself, but also his parents Shep and Kelly Goodman, when he finished first overall in the race of 179 runners. He completed the course with a time of 19:13.20, winning right here in his hometown.

“That was the first time I ever won an entire race,” Max said. “I kept running and running, then I saw the finish line, I started sprinting so hard and everyone was cheering, I felt happy.”

His father, Shep, said he has seen his son thrive at school but when he discovered running, he really felt that Max had found his “thing” and it has had a very positive effect on him.

“He’s been progressing on this upward trajectory with school and everything else and he is so social and so happy–though communication is his hardest challenge,” he said.

His mother explained their family’s personal experience: “For us, it’s just a different journey,” Kelly said. “We still had to raise a kid to be happy and thrive and that was the goal; autism meant we had to jump through different hoops. Max is pulling As and Bs at school and winning races—he is like an inspirational kind of kid.”

They say he enthusiastically trains and practices most days of the week by running or biking in the neighborhood and works to improve his running times. He loves to go to the beach, hike and travel with his parents and younger brother.

His joy for the sport and the successes he has experienced thus far have clearly touched him. When asked about his plans for the future, the bright-eyed runner said, “I want to be a cross-country and track coach for John Jay Middle School so I can teach seventh and eighth graders to do some running like I did.”

As for September, Max looks forward to joining the high school track and cross country teams and wants to continue to run competitively in the years to come.

His old coach and friend, Kelsey (a five-time marathoner herself) explained, “Running allows you to have the moment of feeling free, vibrant, and alive and in those moments we can reflect and cherish who we are and we can develop deep, strong confidence just like Max has.”