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Max Scherleitner - Ageless Wonder From Down Underby Kevin Cassidy, 3rd April 2000
In the world of Ultramarathons we have come to be very familiar with the names of Cliff Young, Drew Kettle, Randall Hughes and Shirley Young, Australians who have defied the age barrier by running ultras at a high level while aged well into their 70s.
In March this year I attended a mountain running event where I, once again, had the privilege to cross paths with Max Scherleitner.
Max's name is probably not very familiar in the big cities of Australia but in his home town of Albury on the Victoria/New South Wales border, he has a very high profile and, in my opinion, is very much an "Ageless Wonder from Down Under".
A native of Austria and still with a broad Austrian accent, the 70 year old Max emigrated to Australia in 1958 after spending a number of his earlier years cycling around Europe and it was while he was still in the Migrant Camp that he, along with another camp resident, decided to take a couple of rickety old bikes [there were no state of the art mountain bikes back in the 50s] and pedal out towards the Australian Alps. The road sign said 52, so off they rode thinking that 52 kilometres would not be so bad while all the time being oblivious to the fact that Australia was still 15 years away from adopting metrics. The 52 on the road sign was, in fact, miles. Max estimates that they covered over 100 miles through the Alps all those years ago and needed to find a hut for shelter because they were stuck in the mountains overnight, the following day saw their old foot brakes fail due to the continual down hills so improvising was needed. Max tied some rather large fallen branches to the back of his bike and the drag slowed his bike as he tackled the steep descents !!!
You will never find Max's name amongst the results of a track or road ultra but amongst some of Australia's toughest trails, the name Max Scherleitner is prominent. The Six Foot Track, Brindabella Classic and the extremely tough Cradle Mountain, Bogong to Hotham and Jagungal Wilderness events have all been graced with Max's presence, in fact, it is not that long ago that Max was still breaking 9 hours for the gruelling Bogong to Hotham event, a time that many good ultra runners of any age cannot do.
Max's attitude and demeanour are exemplary, he is always polite and bristling with enthusiasm. He is one of the few people I know who can stand in a remote forest in the foulest weather imaginable and wear a beaming smile of contentment.
The now defunct Jugungal Wilderness Trail Race provided me with a memory of Max that I will never forget. It was about 1995 when mid way through the event the warm sunshine started to fade toward a freezing cold night. With runners trying to rug up against the cold, Max was still smiling and enjoying the outdoors, his only lament was that he did not have any ropes or climbing gear because he wanted to tackle the imposing cliff face on the side of Mount Jagungal as we ran past, and all THIS while mid way through a 50 mile event !!!!!!!!
While Max has achieved some incredible feats of endurance, he has always remained very modest and I had to rely on Max's close friend, Leigh Privett, to fill me in on the details above. Leigh himself is a well known endurance athlete having run, kayaked and orienteered almost everywhere in Australia, New Zealand and Russia !!!!!!!
Max Scherleitner is one hell of a tough nut, to say the least. Prior to the Start of the Mount Bogong Conquestathon, Max was enthusiastically loading sacks of apples into the back of his tray truck so that he could take them home to be crushed for his home made apple cider. As he picked up the last sack, he swung around and cracked his shin hard up against the tow bar of my car, something that would have made anyone else buckle up in pain, but Max just continued loading the apples as if nothing had happened before going on to complete the Conquestathon.
The Mount Bogong Conquestathon is an institution for Max, having completed every event since its inception in 1974. I can still remember the 1997 version of the Bogong Conquestathon quite vividly. After completing the course which takes you across the summit of Victorias highest peak, Max quickly ate a few sandwiches before heading back up the mountain to do the course again!!!
"It is such a good day and I don't want to waste it" he enthused as he set off to repeat the loop.