Heading in the right direction

Elkhart Christian's Desmond Wilkins-Maxwell, here participating in the long jump at the Goshen Boys Track Sectional, has rebuilt his life after a mentor came into his life.

ELKHART — May 16th was a great day for Elkhart Christian senior Desmond Wilkins-Maxwell at the Goshen Boys Track Sectional.

Wilkins-Maxwell was excelling in the 100 meters, long jump and 400-meter relay. 

When he wasn't competing, Wilkins-Maxwell could be seen with teammates and sharing plenty of laughs.

Moments like that didn't seem possible a few years ago. 

Growing up in South Bend, Wilkins-Maxwell's life was heading in the wrong direction.

"It was tough growing up," said Wilkins-Maxwell. "I fell into the wrong crowd. I didn't have a male role model. I followed my older brother and he was always in trouble and in and out of jail. I felt the way to live was to chase trouble. I skipped school and I was in a gang. I got into arguments with guys. It was a life-threatening situation."

Ross Maxwell then came into Wilkins-Maxwell life and changed and perhaps saved his life.

"I met a probation officer – Ross Maxwell – and he asked me to join his football team," Wilkins-Maxwell said. "He was the president of the Osceola Grace Eagles. I joined the team my freshman year of high school."

Ross Maxwell got Desmond out of South Bend Riley High and into Elkhart Christian Academy High School. 

"He provided a way out for me," Desmond said about Ross. "If not for him I don't know where I'd be. I'd probably be in jail or be dead.

"I've learned at Elkhart Christian that God gives second chances."

Along with attending a new high school, Desmond became part of a new family. 

The Maxwell family is going through the necessary steps of adopting Desmond.

"The adoption process started a few years ago," Desmond said. "It should get wrapped up here soon."

With a new outlook on life, Desmond shifted his energy towards athletics.

For Osceola Grace he has played defensive back, running back, kicker and kick returner. Basketball, baseball and track soon followed as sports for Desmond to participate in at Elkhart Christian.

"I was granted custody my freshman year to the Maxwell family," Desmond said. "That's why I started doing sports my freshman year. I wasn't interested in playing sports when I was growing up. It wasn't my thing."

Eventually, Desmond would make his biggest impact as a track athlete.

A little convincing from Elkhart Christian track coach Allen Lollis helped Desmond stick to just track during the spring of his sophomore year of high school.

"During his freshman year I was mad at him because he tried to do baseball and track," Lollis said. "He had to find something to excel at. He's a good athlete, but it was more natural for him to come over and just compete in track. I think he realized that track was a sport that rewards for your hard work as an individual and that the skies were the limit for him."

Desmond was searching for the right sport to play during the spring.

"I wanted to test the waters and see what I was best at," he said. "I played center field and catcher for baseball, but mainly they needed me for base running.

"I'm glad I stuck with track. I felt I could do something in track. My stepdad also said I was better at track."

As a sophomore, Lollis noticed a change in Desmond and that was transferred on to the track.

"He was a whole different athlete as a sophomore," Lollis said. "He grew a little bit. He was into football and weight lifting and he came back a little stronger and I started noticing that. He went through a transformation of growing up. 

"I remember seeing him out there as a fast athlete on the track with potential and then, all of a sudden, he started filling out."

During his sophomore year, Wilkins-Maxwell qualified for the regional in the high jump and finished eighth with a leap of 5-10.

"We were excited about what he was doing in the high jump," Lollis said. "He was jumping 5-10 and 6-foot. The first time I saw him do the high jump I think he went 5-6 over the bar. It's in his blood. He has natural jumping ability."

Time as a high jumper didn't last for Wilkins-Maxwell, as he became a sprinter and a long jumper as a junior.

The move worked, as he finished third at the sectional in the long jump with a leap of 21-2.25 and qualified for the regional.

"It worked out better for him," Lollis said about the switch in events. "He's got a lot of good top speed and beyond that he has a natural pop." 

Wilkins-Maxwell is exhibiting consistency and showing off his athleticism in multiple events this year.

He has qualified this year in the regional in the 100 meters, long jump and 400-meter relay. At the sectional, he placed second in the 100 (11.57) and long jump (21.11.75) and was part of the third place relay (44.18) with teammates Charlie Maxwell, Joseph Ndaiga and Donny Hilty.

"I felt my performance (at the sectional) was OK," Wilkins-Maxwell said. "At the end of the day, I felt I could have given more for the school and the guys. (At the regional) it could be the last time I step on the track so I want to give it all that I've got."

Lollis also feels that Wilkins can do better at the regional.

"He was good at the sectional," the Eagles coach said. "I was a little disappointed that he didn't jump in the 22's. He's capable of doing that. I'm looking forward to good things from him at the regional."   

Wilkins-Maxwell really opened eyes on May 6th when he recorded a best-ever leap of 23-8 in the long jump at Goshen College in a meet against other smaller Christian schools.

"It was senior night and I guess I just wanted to give the crowd a show," Wilkins-Maxwell said. 

While competing on the track team at Elkhart Christian, Wilkins-Maxwell has gotten the chance to spend extra time with younger step brothers – Anthony and Charlie. 

The two brothers have been there to provide guidance to Desmond.

"They've had a positive impact on me," Desmond said. "They've been loving and accepting of me. They've always been open to sharing things with me."

Desmond would love to end his athletic career at Elkhart Christian with a trip to the state finals. If that happened, he would be only second Eagles athlete to qualify for the state finals. Joel Hartman accomplished that feat in 2013 in the 1,600 meters. He finished 10th with a time of 4:18.34.

"I'd like to win the long jump (at the regional)," Wilkins-Maxwell said. "For the others, I'm going to give it my all in the 4x1 and, hopefully, we'll go to state. Guys on the relay team really deserve that. In the 100, I'm going to give it all I've got and leave the rest up to God."

Wilkins-Maxwell will continue his track career at Bethel University in the fall. He plans to major in criminal justice.

"It's just an unbelievable story seeing him get a second chance," Lollis said.

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