Two words changed Max Gamm's life, but not his dream
It's 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, April 16, at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Max Gamm sits in his economics class, but also thinks about the rest of his day.
Being a college baseball player, it's a strict schedule each day. For Gamm, that schedule is even more strict after facing a possible career-ending chronic illness in high school that led to stomach cramps and extensive weight loss.
Once the professor excuses the class, the sophomore baseball player takes off in hopes of not being late.
INFOGRAPHIC: What is inflammatory bowel disease? The basics
After his pre-workout jog to the weight room, Gamm nibbles on a protein bar. He has an hour of lifting ahead.
First, he stretches his legs in preparation for squats. Then, definitely feeling the burn, he heads to the bench press.
His teammates cheer him on and Gamm will do the same once he's done with his set.
Finally, Gamm finishes with lighter leg workouts and an arm exercise.
An hour passes and it's time to have his after workout protein. While him and his teammates feel the full effects of the hour of lifting, the team heads to lunch.
Once lunch was over, he heads to the locker room and cracks open his economics book. He tries to get the majority of his homework done during that time, so he doesn't have to worry about it in the evening.
The clock continues to click closer to 3 p.m. and music fills the locker room. The combination of conversations and music forces Gamm to close his book and start preparing for practice.
The music changes pretty frequently, but it's always songs that get him and his teammates pumped up for practice.
They run out to the field and practice for a couple of hours. Practice will include hitting and fielding, while focusing on improvements from the previous games or series. Every second, Gamm and his teammates are pushing each other to be the best and translating it in a game.
Once the whistle blows, the team runs to the locker room. Gamm throws his baseball equipment and gear into his locker and takes off with some friends.
They go grab dinner before Gamm heads back to his place and settles in for the evening. He'll open up the economics book again and finish up his homework.
Gamm hits the bed like a rock and prepares himself for another similar day in the morning.
Throughout his entire day, people don't see what's happening. They see a baseball player who's helping Nebraska-Omaha win games.
They don't see his mind racing from place to place to place every day. They don't see the strict diet he tries to stick to on a daily basis.
There are some people that know, but the majority of people that don't know.
His teammates and coaches know. His family and friends know. But the majority of fans and students on the Nebraska-Omaha campus have no idea.
"[I knew it was something serious] when I realized I can't hit a ball," Gamm said. "I was just trying to hit the ball up the middle. I wasn't trying to crush the ball, hit doubles or hit a home run. Just trying to hit singles because I couldn't because I felt so weak."
It all starts back when Gamm was a kid and just learning how to play the different sports. His father, Robb Gamm, put him into baseball at age 5.
Robb Gamm played baseball during his childhood and adulthood, so Max Gamm wanted to learn the game as well. He also played basketball and football along the way, but baseball was always the sport Max Gamm focused on every year.
Once he went to high school, Max Gamm knew he wanted to play on the varsity team for East Ridge. He worked hard and at the beginning of his junior year, he decided to focus his attention on the game of baseball.
Max Gamm played shortstop for East Ridge and enjoyed that position throughout his high school career.
"The plays I made were fun like the backhand in the hole," Max Gamm said. "I just like making those longer throws and showing off some of that speed."
Max Gamm looked up to Joe Mauer and J.J. Hardy, especially Hardy since he was a shortstop. He would watch them play and try to replicate some of it on the field at practice.
Once his junior year hit, Max Gamm knew these next couple years could be special for the Raptors. He played with all of his friends since they all grew up playing together in the youth leagues.
East Ridge head baseball coach Brian Sprout also knew how special those two years were for this program. He always looks back to those years because it helped put the East Ridge baseball program on the map.
"That group turned from a question mark into maybe the funniest year we've ever had here," Sprout said. "Just in terms of what they were hoping to accomplish, their leadership... but they took us as far as we've ever been."
Sprout saw the different abilities Max Gamm had early in his career, which allowed him to play on varsity his junior year. Sprout saw the arm strength, plate vision, plate discipline and his overall IQ for baseball.
The biggest thing going into his junior year was that he needed to put on some muscle and weight. Max Gamm was a smaller player during that season and the muscle would allow him to have more arm strength and bat power to make him more of a weapon both offensively and defensively each game.
At the beginning of Max Gamm's junior year, he weighed about 150 pounds. He was getting looked at by some college teams and the main focus was putting some muscle and weight.
Max Gamm hit the weight room and started lifting. He focused on making sure he put on good weight from weights and not just eating bad food.
He did this weight training for the majority of the offseason in hopes he'd be ready to go for the spring season with his teammates.
"I just kept losing weight," Max Gamm said. "I didn't know what was going on. I felt weak and I kept cramping out on the field."
It seemed odd to him and he wasn't sure why his weight wasn't increasing.
At the beginning of the spring season, he experienced stomach cramps that would hurt for a moment and then disappear.
Those occasions became more and more frequent. He could still play baseball, but the cramps became five times an inning. They would happen on the field or in the dugout.
Max Gamm was always dealing with a cramp the majority of the game and they would be painful. He wasn't the only one that noticed these cramps.
Max Gamm told his parents about these cramps and they could tell when he was experiencing one during a game.
"There were games where he would be bent over and the pitcher would step off the mound and wait until he straightened up again," Robb Gamm said.
It became alarming. Along with the cramps, he couldn't keep anything in his stomach.
He could continue playing the game he loved and he didn't want that to change.
So he kept playing through the cramps and enjoying the game of baseball. He didn't tell anyone because it didn't minimize his ability on the field.
Max Gamm never missed a game during that junior year because he focused on the game and was wiped once the game finished.
"There was one game where I think I had my colonoscopy that day and I played a game," Max Gamm said. "I didn't eat at all and I think I went 4-for-4 that game. All I did was drink water and Gatorade all day.
"I didn't know what to do. Really I just looked up to my mom to see what she would tell me to do. I'd eat yogurt, protein shakes ... because if I ate a full meal I'd go to the bathroom right away."
His parents took him to doctors appointments, but no one could diagnosis anything. His mother, Morli Gamm, had an idea of what it could potentially be due to her background in the healthcare field, but they needed to find out sooner than later what's been causing him so much pain and discomfort.
Once his junior year ended, his weight dropped to 129 pounds.
Max Gamm didn't do many activities besides school and baseball during the spring and summer.
"I was really fatigued. I couldn't really do anything," Max Gamm said. "Whenever there was a baseball game, I was there."
He missed the little things like eating at fast food places or going out for pizza with his buddies. He was afraid to go over with his buddies because the food wouldn't digest right.
When Max Gamm's parents learned about the cramping and saw the amount of pain he was going through in games, they wanted to take him to a gastroenterologist. The only problem was that when they called to set up an appointment, the earliest they could see Max Gamm was in August. That was almost three to four months away.
Max Gamm used over-the-counter medication to try and relieve some of the cramping during games. It would help during the game, but afterwards he would be exhausted and head straight to bed.
Max Gamm and his parents knew they needed to see a gastroenterologist. So after a long season of baseball and dealing with these symptoms for so long, Max Gamm's parents had enough and wanted to get a diagnosis.
It was the day of Max Gamm's section finals baseball game. The cramps hadn't been getting better and he was out of options on figuring out a diagnosis.
The only option left was to see a gastroenterologist, a doctor who studies the digestive system, but they found out it might take months before they could schedule an appointment. Max Gamm's parents weren't going to wait that long, so the final option was to bring him to the emergency room.
"The other recommendation I got from the pediatrician was take him to the ER (emergency room)," Morli Gamm said. "At least, you'll get help right away."
This would allow Max Gamm to see a gastroenterologist and figure out a diagnosis for everything that's happened over the past two or three months.
Max Gamm went to the field before the section finals game. He and his team were excited to play for a chance to advance to the state tournament.
Little did the team know that if the Raptors were to win the section finals, Max Gamm might not be there to play. His parents told Sprout that whether they win or lose the game, they're taking him into the emergency room to figure out this situation.
Luckily, Morli Gamm had just taken a position at an office that schedules colonoscopies and she started asking her co-workers about more information for Max Gamm's condition. They recommended calling one of the gastroenterologists to help figure out a diagnosis.
On her way to the section finals game, Morli Gamm was able to book a time with a doctor she worked with who could see Max Gamm the following day. It seemed like a miracle for the Gamm family because typically these appointments are scheduled three months out.
East Ridge ended up losing the game, but Max Gamm and his family were more focused on other aspects of life than a win or a loss.
"At that point, we knew it was either Crohn's or Ulcerative Colitis," Morli Gamm said.
Max Gamm was relieved that he was going to find out the diagnosis, but it took some time. He needed to take a colonoscopy as well as an MRI and blood work to figure out the final result of his diagnosis.
After running some tests and talking with Max Gamm, the gastroenterologist was ready to diagnosis his symptoms. It was two words.
It's two words that no one wants to hear, but it's becoming more and more frequent.
Crohn's disease is a disease that's been diagnosed to over 780,000 Americans, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation website. It's usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 to 35 and is more often found in developed countries around urban areas.
When Max Gamm heard those two words, he wanted to know the next steps and how it was going to affect his passion for baseball.
"When we decided to play Legion [that summer], I knew I was going to work my heart out," Max Gamm said. "I wanted to at least get somewhere in baseball because I love the sport."
He decided to play Legion baseball during the summer before his senior year. Max Gamm took some form of steroid during those couple of months, which allowed him to be focused on baseball while he was on the field.
Max Gamm didn't do much else during that summer because he was fatigued and was afraid of his digestive system when he went out.
Finally, in August of 2017, Max Gamm was prescribed Humira. It was a healthier option to helping his symptoms of Crohn's disease.
It did exactly that as Max Gamm saw his symptoms diminish dramatically in four days after receiving his first injection of Humira.
The injection is taken once every two weeks and if he forgets to take it, he feels fatigued along with cramps more frequently. He had monthly checkups during Max Gamm's senior year of high school. They would check on his symptoms, but also check on the side effects from Humira.
The drug has side effects that can lead to things like skin cancer, so Max Gamm has to be aware of the sun and his time outside. In his eyes, Humira was a life saver.
"The advancements they've made with research on Crohn's disease has been unbelieveable," Robb Gamm said. "Max is still able to have a normal life and I'm glad this Humira has helped him the way it has over the last couple of years."
Once the symptoms subsided in August, Max Gamm focused his attention on the mind games because the physical symptoms were minimal. He had to build confidence in his mind that he could start to eat more and take steps to become Max Gamm again both on and off the field.
He started those steps on the fall baseball team with East Metro. This league was a way for him to get prepared for the spring high school season.
Robb Gamm was one of the coaches on the Max Gamm's team and he noticed more smiles and the love of the game as a player from Max Gamm.
"I remember Brian Raabe looking at me after the first weekend and saying, 'Oh my god. Max is back,'" Robb Gamm said.
For Raabe, it was a similar observation and Raabe couldn't help but smile.
"I think the big thing for the Gamm's were to know what the whole deal was," Raabe said. "Then when you find out, it's kind of a relief so now you just deal with it. And Max did a wonderful job in dealing with it and had a great senior season and 100 percent deserved the opportunity to be a Division I player and he got it."
During the last year and a half, Max Gamm had been looked at by colleges for a baseball scholarship. His parents received some help from Justin Musil who was a recruiting adviser for Elite Sports Advising.
Musil was contacted by Max Gamm's parents at the end of his sophomore year and helped him with getting noticed by colleges during his junior year. Musil saw a lot of strong qualities in Max Gamm with a balance of offense and defense abilities.
In his junior year, Musil was just as confused as Max Gamm and his parents about the situation. He knew Max Gamm was losing weight at a consistent rate during that junior year and it worried Musil along with his parents.
"I don't think many of us were thinking too much about the recruiting process or college baseball," Musil said. "I think it was more about just figuring out what it was for Max as a person and to get that figured out so he could live a normal life."
Once he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, Musil told Max Gamm and his family to focus on his health.
He was confident that the time hadn't run out on Max Gamm's chances for recruiting. Once he was on Humira and came back to his usual self, Musil had an evaluation in November of 2017 to see Max Gamm's levels.
They did hitting, fielding and many different tests, so Musil could send it to college recruiters around the country. Once the evaluations were done, Musil had to talk to Robb Gamm about Max Gamm's future.
"Justin turned to me and said, 'Your son is a Division I player,'" Robb Gamm said.
Since Musil had the confidence, Max Gamm was confident too. He wanted to be a Division I athlete and he worked on every aspect of his game to reach that point.
His received a big offer in January from Nova Southeastern University, which was the biggest Division II school. Max Gamm appreciated the offer, but he wanted to see his options in Division I.
Luckily for Max Gamm, Nova Southeastern said they would keep the offer there until he saw all of his options. A month or two later, he received an offer from Ball State and that became his first Division I offer.
The Ball State offer boosted Max Gamm's confidence even more as he knew the potential to play in Division I was there. He just focused on working harder and providing the stats needed to turn the heads of some coaches.
Max Gamm started communicating with the coaches from the University of Nebraska-Omaha at the beginning of the baseball season his senior year.
"The coaching staff [at Nebraska-Omaha] was really young," Max Gamm said. "They had a lot of potential and they recruited me, which I liked."
Robb Gamm remembers one specific game during Max Gamm's senior year that made Nebraska-Omaha offer a scholarship.
It was one of the East Ridge and Woodbury regular season games. Max Gamm had struck out in his first at-bat and needed to turn it around in the second at-bat.
In that second at-bat, he found the right pitch and connected on a three-run home run. When Max Gamm came up to the plate for the third time, Woodbury's head coach Kevin McDermott decided to change things up.
McDermott moved his infielders out to the outfield grass area and shifted them so they were playing more of a heavy right side. Instead of trying to hit the ball hard again, Max Gamm brought his bat up and dropped a bunt on the third base line and reached first base safely.
After reaching first base, Robb Gamm said he saw the Nebraska-Omaha coach pick up his phone and call someone as he left the stands. At that moment, Robb Gamm knew Max Gamm had an offer from the Mavericks.
"He's got the talent and confidence and those are two good things when you're recruiting a player," said Evan Porter, head baseball coach of Nebraska-Omaha. "His baseball IQ is very high. All of that helped us make our decision to offer Max a spot down here in Omaha."
Max Gamm took an official visit to Nebraska-Omaha and fell in love with everything about the school and the baseball program. Once he visited, he was ready to sign his letter of intent.
He was going to be a Maverick.
"It felt really good [to sign with Nebraska-Omaha]," Max Gamm said. "When I was a junior I was thinking, 'yeah, my career is over I don't think I'll ever make it to college baseball' and when that happened I realized 'yeah I could do this.'"
The future and the cure
Max Gamm finishes tying his cleats and looks out to a baseball field. He gets up from the bench and buttons up his Nebraska-Omaha jersey knowing he has nine innings ahead of him.
Gamm knows he's going to soak in every pitch of every inning throughout this game. For him, baseball is not a hobby or even a sport.
It's his life.
It's always been his life.
Since gripping the laces of a baseball at the age of five to signing his national letter of intent as a senior, baseball has always been there through the ups and downs.
The ability to wear a Nebraska-Omaha jersey and run out to second base every game is an honor for Max Gamm.
"It feels like I've accomplished something more because I didn't think I was going to make it to college baseball at all," Max Gamm said. "I thought I was going to be someone in the stands."
Now, Max Gamm is filing the stands full of fans with every home game he starts. Not only does he want to fill the stands at Nebraska-Omaha, he wants to fill the trophy cases with championships.
Max Gamm chose Nebraska-Omaha for college because he knew there was a chance to compete for a starting spot as a freshman. Other colleges were talking about redshirting him during his freshman year, but he wanted at least a shot.
"They told me there was a guy in front of me, but they said you can work and we could see you playing your freshman year," Max Gamm said.
The transition from high school to college had its ups and downs, especially the pace of play and the competition level.
Luckily, Max Gamm faced off against a handful of Division I pitchers in high school like his best friend Max Meyer, who pitches at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Those pitchers allowed him to see that speed and adapt to it at an earlier stage of his life.
That early experience gave him confidence heading into his freshman year at Nebraska-Omaha as he competed with a couple players for the starting spot at second base.
The confidence showed in his batting and fielding skills during the fall season and Max Gamm earned the starting spot at second to open up the 2017-18 season, his freshman year. Words couldn't explain how happy he was with earning that starting spot in the lineup.
"At the beginning of the year, everyone saw me as that small dude that shouldn't be playing," Max Gamm said. "But, I did play."
Now, he had to work harder than ever before to keep that starting spot. The hard work paid off as he hit .244 with 17 RBIs, a .314 on-base percentage, a .976 fielding percentage, 23 runs and five stolen bases. He started in 48 games and played in 49 games his freshman year.
After a strong freshman year, the expectation from his coaches and himself was to have even better numbers during his sophomore year.
Max Gamm had been hitting the weight room during the offseason and has built muscle for his offense and defense. About half way through the season (April 19), he's hit .284 with nine RBIs, a .354 on-base percentage, a .980 fielding percentage, 18 runs and eight stolen bases. He's started in 24 games and has played in 26 games with many games left to play his sophomore year.
He's been happy with the results so far, but he's still hungry for more. He wants to continue helping his team in any way to win more games and have an opportunity to compete in the College World Series at the end of the season.
As for the future, it's simple for Max Gamm.
"I want to make it as far as I can," Max Gamm said. "If I get offers, I'll take them."
He's looking to play baseball to the highest level possible. It's always a kids dream to play in the MLB, but he knows it will be a journey to get there.
Max Gamm just enjoys the sport of baseball so much that he doesn't want to give it up. He'll keep playing if given the opportunity. Every night he goes to bed, he's thankful that Nebraska-Omaha gave him an opportunity to continue the sport he loves.
Along with baseball, Max Gamm is passionate about learning more regarding Crohn's disease. He wants to help others that are facing this same disease because he said he's been fortunate to continue progressing in his life with the game of baseball by his side.
"I'd love to help people out who are battling this disease," Max Gamm said.
He hopes that someday there's a cure for Crohn's disease and he knows that day is coming sooner than later with the advancements in experiments and such. Until then, he'll keep learning more about this disease and helping as many people as he can.
Max Gamm's story: A timeline
September 2015 — Max Gamm begins his junior year at East Ridge High School and starts to focus his attention on baseball in the spring.
March 2016 — Max Gamm begins the baseball season with practices and will shortly start games in April. During this time, Gamm starts to have stomach cramps.
June 2016 — Max Gamm plays through the stomach cramps all baseball season. The day of the section finals, Gamm’s parents tell head coach Brian Sprout that they’re taking him to the emergency room after the game to figure out a diagnosis.
June 2016 — Max Gamm is taken to a gastroenterologist and he diagnoses Gamm with Crohn’s Disease.
August 2016 — Max Gamm is prescribed Humira and his symptoms begin to minimize. He starts to focus on baseball once again and prepare for an important senior year.
November 2016 — Max Gamm has an evaluation with Justin Musil from Elite Sports Advising and he tells Gamm that he could become a Division I baseball player.
January 2017 — Max Gamm received an offer from Nova Southeastern University from Florida, one of the top Division II schools in the country.
May 2017 — Max Gamm received an offer from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and decided to sign his letter of intent to become a Maverick.
February 2018 — Max Gamm starts at second base in the first game of the 2018 season for Nebraska-Omaha. He went 1-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored against Northwestern on Feb. 17.
May 2018 — Max Gamm finishes his freshman year of baseball at Nebraska-Omaha.
February 2019 — Max Gamm starts at second base in the first game of the 2019 season for Nebraska-Omaha. He went 2-for-4 with two runs scored against USC on Feb. 15.