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Wilson’s Mahar making the most of it

Photo by Shawn Turri

John Mahar says he didn’t know a thing about diabetes when the doctors informed him that his youngest son, Jack, had the disease about 15 years ago.

He and his wife, Margaret, were summoned to Children’s Hospital, where they got a swift and sobering education on the disease. Jack was just two and a half years old, a rare age for a diagnosis.

“We go up there and the doctor says, ‘Well, your life just changed forever’,” John Mahar recalled.

Type 1 diabetes, which used to be known as juvenile diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the body can’t create its own insulin, the hormone that allows sugar to enter cells to produce energy.

Little Jack would have to take insulin for the rest of his life. In former times, that would mean injection with a needle. But almost from the start, they had Jack equipped with an insulin pump, a device the size of a cell phone that’s attached to the outside of the body and connects to a catheter under the skin.

It was difficult for a boy at such a young age. After Jack’s diagnosis, the Mahars had their three older boys tested. Ben, the second-eldest, was diagnosed with diabetes at around 12. Their dad gave them both the same message.

“We looked at diabetes as 'You have to live with this, but you can’t let it stop you from doing whatever you want to do',” John said. “And it hasn’t. He was always really good with it. He’s a rule-follower and wants to do right. So when you’re a diabetic, there’s rules on how you live and all that stuff.

“It’s doable, but your life is essentially more difficult than everyone’s else’s. That’s just what it is. But he always followed those rules.”

Nothing was going to stop one of the Mahars, which has been the first family of football in Wilson for years. All four boys played for the Lakemen — Mitch, Ben, Evan and Jack. The three eldest all played on the 2019 team that reached the Class C sectional finals at what was then New Era Field in 2019.

Matt Faery, the defensive coordinator for the Lakemen, is Margaret Mahar’s first cousin. He was a star at Wilson and played college football at Holy Cross. His son, Declan, was a standout on the 2019 team. Several other members of the family have played football for Wilson, in northern Niagara County.

Jack, a star senior running back and strong safety for the 2-2 Lakemen, represents the end of an era for the Mahar family.

“It’s definitely going to be different for my parents,” Mahar said after practice last week. “No more sports. They’ll have a lot of free time.”

Mahar, who is 5-9, 160 pounds, gives them plenty to cheer for. Through four games, he leads the Lakemen in rushing with 521 yards on 50 carries (a 10.4 average per run) and seven touchdowns. He also has three receptions for 66 yards and a TD. Wearing an insulin pump is evidently no impediment.

“I’ve never known anything different,” Jack said of his diabetes. “I’ve had it since I was 2. I don’t even think about it, really. I go home, have a good meal, and regulate it through the whole warmups.

“I have my phone out there to keep track of my blood. If something starts going sideways, I have everything I need here. My parents will run down and give me food if I need it.”

Atlas, who has coached at Wilson for 23 years, also monitors Jack’s sugar on his cell phone. He has an app that alerts him if Jack’s levels get too low.

“So if he ever goes below 50, or whatever the threshold is, my phone goes beeping,” Atlas explained. “It happened at the end of a game. That was an accident because his pump fell off.”

John Mahar said it happened late in Friday night’s 41-20 loss at Franklinville/Ellicottville. He said Jack threw the pump onto the bench and went the rest of the game without it.

That sort of toughness goes a long way. Atlas said Jack is a quiet, but assertive, leader on a team with an 18-man varsity roster. Players need to play both ways. They need to learn multiple positions on a smaller roster. It unifies a football team, forges a competitive bond.

“Yeah, definitely,” Mahar said. “Everybody has to have trust in everyone. Everybody plays, so it’s kind of fun. You walk out there and you know the other team is looking at you like, ‘Look at these guys, there’s barely any of them.’

“And we come out and just keep going,” he said. “Got to dig in.”

Digging in comes naturally. Jack also plays basketball and runs track. He’s not sure if he’ll play after high school, but if some college shows interest, he’ll listen. He’s leaning toward attending Alfred State, where he’d study electrical construction. Then he might take a course to become an electrical lineman.

The linemen that matter now are the ones blocking for him. Mahar’s goal is to rush for 1,000 yards and lead Wilson back to sectionals. That’s looking shaky after two straight losses.

There’s little margin of error on a small roster, which dropped to 17 last week when a two-way starter tore a ligament in his finger.

“Everybody’s still sore,” he said last Tuesday. “Oh yeah, it’s so bad. But by the time Friday comes around, you’re pretty much ready.”

A little adversity, a few bumps and bruises, that’s no big deal to the last of the Mahar boys. After all, Jack has never known any different.

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