Meet the missionary who won 3 medals at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games

Among the thousands of athletes, coaches, volunteers and spectators in Orlando, Florida, last week for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, one young man stood out — he was wearing a missionary name tag.

Elder Max Reynolds, 22, is serving a full-time service mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Gilbert, Arizona. He’s also a really good swimmer, and he was selected to represent Arizona and swim at the Games June 5-12.

While there, he won three medals — one gold and two silver — although the most important thing to him was always to just swim his best and represent Jesus Christ.

So how is a missionary allowed to swim competitively, let alone on a national level?  

As a service missionary, Elder Reynolds has a customized mission experience uniquely tailored to his talents and skills, said his mother, Pamela Reynolds. He has autism and serves as his capability and circumstances allow, under the ecclesiastical direction of his stake president and the mission leaders of the Arizona Chandler Service Missionary Area. He began his mission June 2021.

Pamela Reynolds said her son is not allowed to go to dances or date while on a mission, but he can swim every morning — which he does for about an hour and a half, except on Sundays — and he is allowed to spend time with family, including going on vacations with them.

The week in Florida for the Special Olympics was considered a family vacation, and therefore when Elder Reynolds was invited tot he Games, he said yes.

Though he couldn’t believe it when the coach pulled him aside in the pool and said he’d been selected. He had also swam at the national Special Olympics competition in 2018 in Seattle, Washington.

“I thought I wasn’t going to make it, because they were like, if you went last time, you have less of a chance of going again,” he said.

The 2022 Special Olympics

When he spoke to the Church News before heading to Florida, he said the Special Olympics would help him grow and learn from others and develop his swimming. “I look forward to competing in swim and making friends. I’m grateful that I am getting this opportunity to go,” he said.

But he added, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous or excited.”

Elder Max Reynolds jumps in to the pool to swim the 100-yard butterfly event at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida, on June 8, 2022.
Elder Max Reynolds jumps in to the pool to swim the 100-yard butterfly event at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida, on June 8, 2022. Credit: Pamela Reynolds

The Games had 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the Caribbean, with 20,000 volunteers and 125,000 spectators.

The way Elder Reynolds competes is by trying to beat his own record. And he did that in the 100-yard butterfly not once, but twice in Florida. In a qualifying heat, he swam 1 minute, 2.4 seconds. Then in the finals on June 8, he swam 1:01:29 and won the gold medal.

He won a silver medal with Arizona’s 4-by-50 men’s 50-yard freestyle relay team. In the 100-yard freestyle, he was not feeling as well and didn’t beat his personal time. He still won the silver medal, though, which thrilled his family.

“You did great, Max, you did fantastic,” they said in a video they posted on his YouTube channel from Florida.

Swimming and service

Elder Reynolds wakes up every day Monday through Saturday at 4:30 a.m. to swim at the Mesa Aquatics Club — Masters in Gilbert. Swimming brings him comfort and makes him feel happy, calm and peaceful. He likened it to reading the scriptures.

“It just gives you relief and you kind of shut off all the other parts of the world,” he said. “It’s just you and the water, that’s it.” 

Swimming hundreds of laps each morning not only means he gets daily exercise, but it also gives him a big energy boost for the day ahead.

And each day he stays busy with his mission assignments. On Mondays, he works on the grounds of the Gilbert Arizona Temple. Tuesdays through Fridays, he serves at the Midwest Food Bank, making boxes, creating labels and helping with record keeping. Saturdays often include service activities. Sundays, he has mission meetings and travels for speaking assignments at different wards. Each evening at 9:30, he takes part in a mission thought and mission prayer.

Elder Max Reynolds, who began serving a service mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in June 2021, spends Mondays helping beautify the grounds of the Gilbert Arizona Temple.
Elder Max Reynolds, who began serving a service mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in June 2021, spends Mondays helping beautify the grounds of the Gilbert Arizona Temple. Credit: Pamela Reynolds

“I love service because it makes me feel happy and I feel a connection deeper with my Savior,” he said.

Elder Kent Johansen and Sister Lisa Johansen were called to be his service mission leaders about a month ago and say he is always very positive. “One day I went to visit him at the food bank, and I could see him and another missionary dancing while they were working, and he just seemed to be having a good time serving,” said Elder Johansen. “He is a great example and very friendly to all the coworkers.”

They said Elder Reynolds has served as a district leader and zone leader and has faithfully fulfilled those responsibilities.

His mother said, “He is working towards goals to be the best missionary he can be. To serve, study, and learn just as if he was on a proselytizing mission.”

The other swimmers at his club and people he has met at the food bank see his goodness and kindness and his example, said his mother. They know he is a member of the Church and cheer for his successes. 

“When Max serves, he’s serving for Heavenly Father,” said Pamela Reynolds.