Edina mountain biker has racing gear like no other

  • Article by: CHARLIE ARMITZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 23, 2014 - 6:57 AM

Leg surgery to deal with cerebral palsy opened up Edina’s Max Ellingson to mountain biking. He hasn’t stopped pedaling since.

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Max Ellingson speeds on his mountain bike, far from any mountains on a paved trail in Edina’s Bredesen Park on Thursday afternoon.

Photo: Photos by JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com,

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Max Ellingson’s cerebral palsy puts him at a disadvantage at times.

But when he mounts his bike to race, Max turns his intensity up a gear.

“It’s like you can’t tell that he has a disability,” said his mother, Sue Ellingson.

Max is a captain of Edina High School’s mountain biking team and a passionate racer — an identity that he and his family put before his disability.

The dirt trails have been a haven for the junior, who competes at a high level thanks to a surgery he had at age 10 that rotated his legs outward.

“It really just secludes you and gets you in this zone where you’re not really thinking about anything else,” Max said of mountain biking. “It’s really peaceful.”

Max’s surgery was elective, but doctors said it would greatly improve his legs and prevent future complications such as arthritis.

The Ellingsons found Dr. Stephen Sundberg, one of the nation’s top doctors for the procedure. Sundberg performed the surgery successfully.

The years after Max’s surgery included physical therapy to retrain his muscles. The first summer was particularly difficult, as Max needed a wheelchair and wore a cast.

“He had to kind of learn how to walk again,” said his dad, John Ellingson.

John Ellingson said they would take Max out in public while he was in a wheelchair, and when people asked about his condition, he and Max would invent a story — that he had broken both legs, for example.

“We wouldn’t joke all the time,” John Ellingson added.

When Max was able to resume activities, his dad introduced mountain biking. The sport has racing elements akin to skiing and go-kart racing, which Max had tried when he was younger.

His first few races were tough, but he quickly fell in love with the sport. John Ellingson said he could tell the sport was a good fit after Max earned a top-three finish at a race.

Max had tried traditional sports when he was younger, but his balance and coordination weren’t up to par.

“He could do all the sports,” Sue Ellingson said, “but he just couldn’t be competitive.”

Max has to work harder to compete in mountain biking because his body consumes more oxygen than the average person. He does this by stretching and keeping his legs active regularly.

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