By Calli Townsend
Many people already know Luke Maher’s name from hearing it announced at road races throughout the Blue Water Area. He’s been racing — and winning — since he was six years old.
And now, he’s making his name known on a new level as a member of the Port Huron Northern varsity cross-country team.
This talented freshman started out the season with a seventh-place finish at the Skipper Early Bird Invitational back in August, with a time of 18:24 for a 5k race. By mid-September, he finished seventh at the first MAC White Division jamboree, improving his time to 17:59.0.
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By the second conference meet, he had improved his personal best time to 17:16.1 and ended up finishing second overall, leading the Husky pack to a first-place team finish.
“The competition levels are different but it’s kind of the same feelings when you walk up to the line all the time,” Maher said of the difference from road racing to high school cross country. “I feel kind of confident. I know I’m not going to be the top one there, but I’m still trying to work my way up and do the best that I can and try to improve.”
Maher has certainly had plenty of experience when it comes to racing. Growing up, he and his family were always finding road races to compete in, and they often still do.
“We will run like 25 to 30 races a year, so we do it all the time. It’s fun,” he said. “We run a lot within Port Huron, but if we’re traveling somewhere in a car and we’re just taking a break, we’ll try to find races somewhere along the line.”
They sometimes even find a way compete in a local race and still make it to church in the morning.
Maher has three younger siblings, Ryan, Kent, and Kari, and they all enjoy running together as a family. Between mile runs and 5ks, there’s something for everyone to compete in.
“Kari is our youngest and she’ll run sometimes, but she’ll run like the fun mile or something,” Maher said “Everyone else will kinda run and sometimes my other two brothers will run with my dad and kind of just enjoy it.”
As avid runners themselves, Maher’s parents, Mark and Val, have gladly passed down the sport to their children.
“My mom and dad try to get me into as many races as I can and they help me practice and train when we’re in the off-season and they try to motivate me a a lot,” Maher said.
And when they’re not coaching him through a practice or race, they’re quick to offer words of encouragement.
“My dad likes to listen to a whole bunch of motivation and tries to encourage me before my races to get me to run out there and just give my best,” Maher said. “My mom says a lot of Bible verses, I forget what the one of them was but it was like, ‘Run and don’t grow weary.’ She’s always had faith in God, that God will help you and get you through it.”
In addition to supportive parents, Maher has also found a lot of support within his new team. After training by himself for a while, Maher said it’s been nice to have a team of other talented runners to help him.
“Those practices are a lot more comfortable than when I would practice along because you’ve got more people who are like you and you’re running in a pack with a bunch of people who are on your skill level or better than you are,” he said. “I’ve always gone to a whole bunch of cross-country meets when I was younger for Northern, so I’ve known most of these people pretty well and they’re really friendly and nice people who are nice to spend time with.”
Some of those workouts include mile repeats, which Maher said they try to complete in a pace faster than their 5k race pace, which is no easy feat, but his teammates make it manageable. This year, Maher has even increased his weekly mileage to 45-50 miles a week, up from his normal 30 miles a week. He said he’s been feeling strong and healthy and able to maintain his speed.
Now, Maher and the Huskies will enjoy a short hiatus from racing as they take some time to train a little more in preparation for the final league meet on Tuesday, Oct. 13. For Maher, the goal is an All-League title and a chance for his team to compete at the State final. In order to do that, Northern will have to finish in the top three at the Regional meet.
“I guess for league we’re trying to get under the top eight so we can get All-League and then I’ve been low-17s so far so I’m trying to get under 17, into the 16s is the main goal,” he said. “I think we’re on pace for third our fourth [in the region], we’re right around there.”
Photos courtesy of the Maher family.