Judge grad strong on and off the track

Mike Baumgarten started running track after he sustained too many concussions playing soccer. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Mike Baumgarten wasn’t healthy enough to run. And he knew he needed to take a break.

It ended up not only helping him, but helping others.

Baumgarten, a 2018 graduate of Father Judge High School, is now a junior on the track teams at St. Joseph’s University. And like all runners, he’s dealt with nagging injuries like shin splints, and later developed a stress fracture. But the pain that caused him to stop running as a freshman wasn’t physical. But it was definitely something that needed to be addressed. And his strength, coupled with his team’s understanding, allowed him to get that help.

“I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and I had to take a leave of absence to deal with everything,” said Baumgarten, who attended St. Matt’s grade school. “I started seeing a therapist, and she was good, but it wasn’t really helping me. Then I started seeing another one, and that’s when things started to improve. People might not know, but it’s like a relationship, if you don’t have the right one, it doesn’t mean she’s not good, it just means it wasn’t a perfect fit. You need to find someone who can help you.”

Baumgarten was definitely lucky to be surrounded by supportive people.

His parents have always been in his corner, as has his twin brother Ryan.

But the support went far beyond his family.

“When I told Coach (Mike) Glavin that I wanted to leave the team freshman year, he was nothing but supportive and let me know that his door is always open and that what I was going through was much bigger than track,” Baumgarten said. “When I came back, he welcomed me back like I never left. In fact, it even helped my career, I think.

“When I came back, Coach Glavin wanted me to switch groups, I was in long sprints at first, but with missing a good amount of time we decided it was best to switch to a group focused more on speed and less velocity. Despite missing more than a month of training, I ended up running at the indoor A10 championships in the 200, and the 100, 200, 400 and 4 by 100 relay at the outdoor A10 championships. Without coach Glavin’s influence on me both on and off the track, that comeback doesn’t happen.”

Baumgarten felt better, but he also wanted to give back. So he joined Hawks-Minded, a mental health peer support group for student-athletes started by the St. Joe’s athletics department.

The group, which Baumgarten is now a huge part of, will help college athletes dealing with the stresses that come along with being a prized athlete, and if the troubles go beyond their means of expertise, they will refer them to a specialist.

“A lot of people think athletes get everything and they have nothing to be stressed out about, but to be an athlete, you have to put in a lot of work, and you have school and the social aspect, nothing is just given to you,” Baumgarten said. “I’m proud to be a part of this, because I know it can help. It’s good to have people you can turn to. I’ve been so lucky with everyone, my family and everyone at St. Joe’s.”

Baumgarten has learned to deal with adjustments since his days at Judge.

He entered high school a soccer star, and was expected to be a huge part of the program when he got there, but he suffered a few concussions. Eventually, it was determined he could no longer play. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but he knew giving up sports wasn’t what he wanted to do.

“I was a sophomore and I was told I couldn’t play any longer, so I remember we had a meeting,” Baumgarten said. “(Judge coach John Dunlap) helped me a lot. He was there, the athletic director was there, the trainer. I talked with my parents. I knew I wanted to try something. There weren’t a lot of options because it had to be something with no contact, and I knew I could run because I ran a lot in soccer. But I just ran because it was part of the game.”

Baumgarten decided to give track a chance, and he quickly excelled.

He was a seven-time All-Catholic selection in his two years running and qualified for states in both the 400 meters and the 4×400-meter relay.

“When I started doing it, I had no idea what I was doing,” Baumgarten said. “The coaches helped me so much. We became very close. I knew how to run, but I remember I didn’t even know how to take the baton. I was reaching for it, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I needed a lot of help, but I learned quickly.”

He had great times, but he had a late start on college selection because he was new to the sport, so he didn’t decide to attend St. Joe’s until late in his senior year.

Turns out good things come to those who wait because the decision has helped him in every way. He’s having a great time running, although he’s been sidelined because the team shut down last year because of coronavirus, but he’s looking forward to getting started on the indoor season shortly.

It’s been great socially.

And it’s been great for his future. Hawks-Minded has not only provided him an outlet to help others, but it’s given him a chance to test his future plans. He’s majoring in psychology and would love to help people some day.

“I know it can help a lot so I want to do that for someone,” said Baumgarten, who works as a food runner at Tony’s in Ivyland. “It feels good to help because you know what they’re going through. You get a lot out of it.”

Baumgarten knows how important others can be, but he also credits his family with being perhaps the biggest influence on him. And he made a point to thank them for being there for him.

“My brother, we’ve always been best friends, we’ve always been very close and he’s always there for me,” Baumgarten said. “My mom and dad were on me probably since fourth grade to do track, and I never listened. They always wanted me to try it because they knew I was quick and probably figured I could excel.

“My dad is my best friend and my biggest source of motivation. He was my soccer coach since I was 12, and I knew that not being able to play the sport we both loved was tough on him. Once I became a runner, I knew he was hyped because I was still able to continue my career. Nothing makes me happier than making him proud.

“Outside of athletics, they were both unbelievably supportive of the struggles I was going through. My parents are my rocks. Without them, the Mike Baumgarten that I am today wouldn’t exist. Mike Baumgarten quite possibly wouldn’t be here at all without the love and support I got from them.”