Emerging from the Pepper Geddings Recreational Center pool in August, Max Wolff didn’t have enough time to realize the attention which he was receiving.
Having just completed the 200-yard backstroke event, the St. James High senior swimmer was only interested in catching his breath.
“Some water went up my nose,” he said. “It was hard keeping my breath, but I finished.”
Surrounded by countless swimmers from dozens of schools with their own personal and team goals, all focus for a brief few moments diverted to Wolff at the Ripley’s Invitational. Receiving a round of applause and a chorus of cheers, it didn’t matter whose school colors were on their swim cap — all eyes were on him.
“It’s crazy, but this happens every single meet he is at,” said his mother, Wendy Wolff. “Wherever he goes, the whole places goes crazy. It really is a sight to see, and it’s kind of funny to say, but it’s kind of a boost Max’s ego.”
At the moment, it was the largest crowd Wolff had swam in front of. All of that will change on Saturday, though.
I’m sure there will be plenty of tissues being passed around (during the state swim meet). Seemingly everyone that follows swimming in South Carolina knows (Max Wolff). I surely expect it to be quite an emotional moment to see him recognized as a senior, and swim at the state meet.
St. James boys swim coach Niki Ferrell
Previously ineligible to compete due to his age, the 19-year-old St. James student-athlete — born with Down syndrome — will end his career at the state swim meet in Columbia. Taking place at the University of South Carolina Natatorium, he will swim the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events.
“I’m sure there will be plenty of tissues being passed around (during the state swim meet),” said St. James boys swim coach Niki Ferrell. “Seemingly everyone that follows swimming in South Carolina knows him. I surely expect it to be quite an emotional moment to see him recognized as a senior, and swim at the state meet.”
With the assistance of St. James athletic director Paula Lee, the school requested a hardship for Wolff with the S.C. High School League (SCHSL). The state’s prep sports governing body approved the request, setting specific guidelines for him to follow.
“Max had to compete as a St. James Shark against the clock, but he must be the only one in the pool,” Lee said in an e-mail statement. “He is not on (the school’s or SCHSL’s) list for eligibility, he is simply included and is swimming forward like we do everyday as Sharks!”
Wolff has participated in some form of competitive swimming for the past seven years, both as a member of the Coastal Aquatic Club and St. James High swim teams.
According to his mother, the thought of not being able to take part in this season never really occurred to him.
“You can at times think things aren’t fair,” she said. “I don’t think it ever occurred to him that he couldn’t swim. … If he was a normal kid, there would not be any question that he would be able to swim his senior year. To tell him that he was not eligible, for some that was not going to fly. Some were willing to not swim unless Max could.”
Fortunately, it never came to that. But part of the reason for such passion is the strides they’ve seen Wolff make over the past several years.
The best part about swimming is that there are no cuts, everyone gets a chance. It’s awesome that because no matter who you are or the limitation, if you have a passion there is a place for you. But being the tough mom I am, when he swims I treat him no differently than his sisters who also swim. I just want the best for my son.
Wendy Wolff, mother of St. James swimmer Max Wolff
At the Ripley’s Invitational in August, he set a personal best in the 100-yard swim, finishing it in under a minute. But regardless of the time Wolff completed the event, Ferrell said his attitude never changes.
“After every event, Max will ask how he did. If he sheds a few seconds off of his previous best time, he is pretty ecstatic,” Ferrell said. “If he adds a second, you’d never be able to tell. He’s never bummed, instead is always so optimistic and proud of himself. It’s beautiful to see.”
All hope Wolff’s swan song as a high school swimmer is his best one. Aside from him, however, it should come as no surprise that his mom’s expectations for him are above that of anyone else.
“The best part about swimming is that there are no cuts, everyone gets a chance,” Wendy Wolff said. “It’s awesome that because no matter who you are or the limitation, if you have a passion there is a place for you.
“But being the tough mom I am, when he swims I treat him no differently than his sisters who also swim. I just want the best for my son.”
SCHSL State Swim Meet
When: Friday, 6 p.m. (Class 5A); Saturday at 10:15 a.m. (Class 4A) and 3 p.m. (Class 3A)
Where: University of South Carolina Natatorium, Columbia
What: Swimmers from the Grand Strand take on their counterparts statewide in an effort to earn individual and team titles.
Cost: $8 per person; those 5-years-old and under are free.