Max Friedlander developed into a star cross country runner during his seventh- and eighth-grade seasons at Kilbourne Middle School.

Max Friedlander developed into a star cross country runner during his seventh- and eighth-grade seasons at Kilbourne Middle School.

However, once he made it to Thomas Worthington High School, a combination of poor form and bad luck led to a slew of injuries that hampered his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons.

But as a senior, Friedlander has managed to stay healthy and finally reach his potential as the Cardinals' team leader.

Friedlander has been Thomas' top runner in each of its first four meets. He ran the eighth-fastest time in school history (15 minutes, 59 seconds) and finished eighth at the Westerville Classic on Sept. 5 at Westerville North.

"It feels great to be fully healthy and running this well after being injured the past three years," Friedlander said. "I've had so many challenges, and I've had to be patient and work my way through a lot of pain and frustration, but it's all been worth it."

Friedlander emerged as the Cardinals' No. 5 runner as a freshman, but his season ended after three meets when sore knees and an inflamed ligament in his left hip made it too painful to run.

After taking several months off and attending physical therapy sessions, Friedlander returned to the team as its No. 2 runner as a sophomore. But then he developed plica syndrome in his right knee and tightness in the iliotibial band in his right side.

The plica on the inner side of the knee, called the medial plica, is the synovial tissue most prone to irritation and injury. When the knee is bent, the plica is exposed to direct injury, and it may also be injured in overuse syndromes. When the plica becomes irritated and inflamed, the condition called "plica syndrome" results.

The injuries caused Friedlander to miss only one meet, but it slowed his progress and he failed to place in the top 24 of the Division I district 1 meet.

The following year, Friedlander's offseason training was interrupted when he developed a stress fracture in his left foot. He then missed half of the regular-season meets during his junior season when he developed a stress fracture in his right foot.

Friedlander returned in time to place ninth (16:22.66) in the Division I district 3 meet.

But just two days before regional, Friedlander broke his right arm when he fell off a roof retrieving a Frisbee. Friedlander ran at regional with his arm secured in a splint, but finished 63rd in a disappointing time of 17:23.25.

Another stress fracture in his right foot then hampered Friedlander's training for his junior track season.

"My knee injuries were my most frustrating injuries, because they hurt so bad and I had to keep running through the pain," Friedlander said. "I kept getting injured because my running form was never very good, and after I missed half my junior season, I finally got to the point where I knew I had to fix it."

This year, Friedlander has spent countless hours doing exercises and drills that are designed to strengthen his core muscles and improve his posture. He's also concentrated on improving his running form and relaxing certain muscles to take pressure off his feet and legs. As a result, Friedlander has avoided any new injuries. He hopes to beat Chris Thurber's school-record time of 15:35 and advance to the state meet for the first time.

"Max has worked his butt off to get healthy, and he's having a great senior season," coach Jeff Henderson said.

"He's the leader of this team, not only performance-wise, but he's turned out to be a great vocal leader for the guys as well."