TOPSHAM – When McKenzie Gary was struggling in one of his strongest events at the most important meet of the season, his father pulled him aside and offered him some simple advice.

“Relax,” he told his son. “Just relax.”

Gary didn’t overthink his final attempt at qualifying for the long jump finals at the Class A state championships. The Mt. Ararat sprinter didn’t think about the fact he had just fouled on his first two jumps. He didn’t think about overhauling his technique. And he never once thought about giving up.

Instead, Gary did exactly what his father told him.

“I sort of had to let everything go,” recalled Gary, a junior. “When you think about it, it makes you so nervous, maybe a little more uptight. But I just put in my headphones, listened to some music and relaxed.”

How did it work out?

“He (did) his best jump of the season,” Mt. Ararat Coach Diane Fournier said.

The Maine Sunday Telegram’s boys’ indoor track and field MVP, Gary won Class A titles in three events: the long jump (22 feet, 11/4 inches), the 55-meter dash (6.62 seconds) and the 200 (22.93). His 30 points helped the Eagles finish second to Scarborough, their best finish ever.

“Mt. Ararat has never gotten that far before,” said Gary, who went on to place fourth in the 300 and fifth in the long jump at the New England championships.

“It was great to see the whole team come together to win, or to come close to winning. The state team wasn’t that big, but it meant a lot to see everyone come together and contribute.”

The team, Gary explained, is like a community. Each person has a role and a responsibility on the team and contributes to a greater cause.

“You’re pushing yourself, but you always have teammates pushing you, too,” Gary said. “And being a part of a successful community, everyone’s pushing each other to do their best.”

And while Gary may blend in effortlessly with his teammates, Fournier credits Gary’s work ethic for his success.

“A lot of it is his genetics,” Fournier said. “But he works so hard. He might have that laid-back attitude, but he works so hard and it’s made a big difference.”

One example of Gary’s work ethic: During Mt. Ararat’s practices on the track, the coaches have each athlete run as far as he can in 50 seconds. Gary’s goal was to run 400 meters — a time that could place him among the top six in the event at both the Class A and B championship meets.

Now, Gary is preparing for outdoor track, where the distances will be longer and the number of competitors larger. Somehow, he still intends to find a way to relax.

“He’s come a long way this winter,” Fournier said. “I hope it carries over to the spring.”

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

rlenzi@pressherald.com