Remembering Lacey’s Max Aunese three years later

Community and high school football standout still in the minds of many throughout Lacey



Max Aunese in front of the Aunese family household, May 2020.

GUNNER MILLER, Evergreen contributor

Max Aunese, 18, graduated Timberline High School in 2020 with plans to attend Arizona State University. On July 18, 2020, Max was heading out to do an activity with his close friends that would alter their lives forever.

He and his friends went swimming at an old quarry near Millersylvania State Park, a popular swim spot in Olympia. While swimming, the group tried racing across the quarry. When the group finally reached the end of the lake, they looked back and Max was nowhere to be seen. He had died from a heart attack while swimming. 

As a result of the tragedy, his hometown Lacey came together.

The community raised $29,458 for his family through GoFundMe and the community attended the funeral and wake. Max had such a significant impact on much of the Lacey community that many people continue to come together to pay their respects to him by going to his yearly celebration. 

Max’s brother, Martin Aunese, 20, said he had gratitude for how he felt that many of Max’s friends and classmates would continue to visit the Aunese family years later.

“I would have thought people would stop coming and move on easier, even in the past two years; it is crazy how people will continue to check up on me and my family. It’s surreal to me how much he had an impact on our community,” Martin said.

Martin said that Max was known throughout the community as “one of a kind” with his respectful personality and his willingness to be open to whomever he met. 

That is how Max and Martin were raised. 

“It was always implemented for both of us to live a certain lifestyle. We were always told to be there for each other and others, and because I was the younger brother, I never understood why I was told that, but I do now,” Martin said. 

Max was best known by the Timberline High School community as the star wide receiver for the varsity football team. That title was not given to Max, but rather earned. 

As a sophomore, trying to solidify himself on the varsity team during spring camp, he ran a route and suffered a knee injury that ended that goal. 

Anyone who knew Max knew he was not one to give up. Once he was healthy the next year, he realized his goal of being a full-time starter on the varsity team.

In his first game back at South Sound stadium, where the Friday night lights were in full effect, families and students all gathered to watch Timberline play. On one of the first plays of the game, the ball was thrown down the field. Everyone knew where the ball was going; Max caught the ball and strode down the sideline while the crowd roared as he scored. Max was back. 

Colton Steepy, 22, a former teammate and friend of Max, got to see Max overcome this obstacle firsthand. 

“It was a full circle moment for him. Through his injury and rehabbing to get back and play varsity football for the first time and to score a touchdown immediately was an inspiring and cool moment to see,” Steepy said. 

Although football was a big part of Max’s life, he took pride in being a student. He maintained a 3.75 GPA throughout high school and was an honor student when he graduated in 2020. 

Nick Mullen, 46, who was the head football coach and a teacher at Timberline, not only saw Max on the field but also in the classroom. He saw Max as a highly valued leader in both aspects of his life. 

“Max was able to work with any student in a classroom. I could pair him up with any student in my class and he could work with them and make sure he and the student he was working with would become successful,” Mullen said. 

Mullen says the embodiment of Max’s legacy was that he lived life the right way. 

“He lived the way that you are supposed to live. One step at a time and one moment at a time. He enjoyed the journey. I think you can never focus on the past and the tomorrow and you have to be in the now,” Mullen said.

Max Aunese and Gunner Miller at Bonney Lake Stadium, September 2019.

Note from the writer:

Max was one of my classmates and my friend at Timberline. He was someone I admired and wanted to be like. This piece means so much to me because everyone needed to know about the legacy he left in my community. Max helped me form into the person I am today.