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I recently wrote about former New Rochelle wrestler Max Gomez, who had his right foot amputated shortly after his wrestling career ended. Although this isn’t necessarily a wrestling story, I wanted to share it because it is an inspirational story about a former Section 1 wrestler who has overcome tremendous odds to excel as an athlete.
Considering where he had been just over a year ago, no one could blame Max Gomez for being a bit starstruck.
The New Rochelle resident had part of his right leg amputated after a motocross accident in June 2012, but on the first weekend of this month, he found himself in Los Angeles competing at the X Games surrounded by athletes he’d grown up idolizing.
“It still hasn’t really set in,” the 19-year-old Gomez said. “Just to watch that on TV for so many years, and then to get the invite, I still didn’t even know what it was all about. I get there and look at all of these guys who are pros standing next to me, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ Then they talk to me and are like, ‘Wow, this guy only has one leg,’ so it was like a mutual-respect thing.”
Before he competed among the best in his sport, Gomez’s life changed in an instant on June 2, 2012, when he took a fall down a 10-foot ledge on a western Pennsylvania course and slammed onto his feet. The impact shattered his right ankle and tore blood vessels, as Gomez knew right away that this wasn’t just a typical bump or bruise.
“I’ve had a lot of other injuries — I’ve broken my arm, my foot, my femur,” he said. “With any other injury that I’ve had, the pain wouldn’t go away, but I’d be able to eventually find a comfortable spot. With this one, I couldn’t find a comfortable spot. … The pain the entire time was so severe and constant that I knew there was no way that it could be a sprained ankle.”
Several efforts to restore blood flow to his foot were unsuccessful, leading doctors to recommend amputation from the ankle down.
“Literally every doctor that looked at me told me this would be the best thing, whereas carrying it on there would be like dead weight,” Gomez said. “I knew that I couldn’t dwell on it and had to make the best of it. I couldn’t sit there and cry about it, so I got on the computer and started looking stuff up. There are a bunch of successful people with prosthetic legs, and I knew I would be able to make it work.”
Getting back on a motorbike was the last thing any of Gomez’s family and friends were thinking about shortly after the accident, but it was at the forefront of his mind. His father, Alex, who introduced him to the sport when he was young, said he had “a hard time with it” when Max expressed his desire to continue, but Max was determined to show he could keep doing what he loves.
“It was about a week after (the amputation),” Max Gomez said, recalling when he started talking about motocross again. “I knew it was taking a big toll on the rest of my family, so I was just like, ‘I’m not going to keep doing this (to them).’ After watching some videos of guys who had similar injuries on the bike, I knew I could do it.”
Gomez initially had trouble riding with the prosthetic foot that he was given for walking, but in February, he reached out to someone who was able to help.
Mike Schultz, who has medaled several times at the X Games on motorbikes and snowmobiles with a prosthetic left leg, started the prosthetics-manufacturing company Biodapt. After hearing from Gomez, Schultz offered to send his prosthetic at a discounted rate.
“I remember the phone call from his dad when he got it,” Schultz said. “He said, ‘Holy cow, you should have a video camera on people when they open this.’ Max was all excited and running around the house, and it got me a little choked up.”
“As soon as I put it on, I knew it was going to work,” Gomez said. “I didn’t even have to get on the bike. That was kind of like the starting point.”
Schultz and Gomez formed a quick bond, and with Gomez now comfortable again on his bike, the two would soon be competing against each other.
Gomez really put his name on the motocross map in May when he won the Extremity Games — beating his mentor.
“It was an epic race,” Schultz said. “We battled back and forth. I obviously wanted to win, but to see him win with my equipment was pretty darn special.”
The success at the Extremity Games earned Gomez an invitation to the X Games — a tremendous feat, but not a complete shock to those who know him well.
“I was definitely surprised, but at the same time, I know Max’s character,” said Aaron Butler, Gomez’s good friend and former teammate on the New Rochelle High wrestling team. “He’s not a person who dwells on things. Once it’s done, it’s done, and he’s looking forward.”
Gomez went on to take fourth in the Moto X Adaptive final, with Schultz winning the gold.
As a result of the national exposure, Gomez has received a tremendous response from the New Rochelle community — as well as people around the country — who look at him as an inspiration. But for Gomez, it’s all about living his life and doing what makes him happy.
“The sport is either in your blood or it’s not,” Gomez said. “You’re either born to do it, or you can’t handle it. The injuries test you and show you whether you really want to be in this sport or not. You have to respect the machine, because it can do damage to you. Every injury is like a milestone, and you can learn from it.”