Junior olympian tracks down his dream


Clark poses with Alonzo Allen, one of his track friends he considers an older brother, after running the 1500m Run at the 2012 AAU Junior Olympic Games.

His lungs ache. His legs throb. He focuses, ignoring the crowd. He runs.

Then, he feels a pull in his right calf muscle.

“I could have pulled [through],” he said, “but it comes to a point where you’re like, ‘do I rather jeopardize the whole rest of my season or do I jeopardize this race?’”

He decided to slow down and focused less on placing in his race.

The runner is junior Colby Clark, and he raced his 800m in the Junior Olympics on Aug. 3, 2015.

Colby began running track in the sixth grade.

“Instantly, he fell in love with it,” Colby’s father Christopher, said, “and I fell in love with it because he came home and went upstairs and went to sleep on his own, which we had never been able to have him do.”

Track was such a good fit that Colby ran his entire sixth grade season. He even participated in summer track.

“[Summer track is] hot, and you have to hydrate,” Christopher said. “We found that he just loved running so much that none of that stopped him.”

As Colby continued his track career, he faced several minor sprains and pulls, but none compare to the injury he experienced his freshman year.

In Nov. 2013, as wet leaves coated the sidewalk, Colby went on his after-school run. He slipped, fell and heard a crack.

“I got up,” Colby said. “The first thing I [thought was], ‘Ah, man, I cracked my phone. My parents are going to kill me, but it turns out that wasn’t a crack I heard.”

Colby fractured his knee. As a result, he was on crutches for almost two months and underwent rehabilitation and therapy.

“When running is such an important part of your life,” Colby said. “[having] that stripped away from you was hard.”

Surprisingly, when Colby began running again, he wanted to quit.

Clark placed 7th in the 1500m Run at the 2013 USA Track and Field Junior Olympic Games, and he he also gained the All American Rank.
Clark placed 7th in the 1500m Run at the 2013 USA Track and Field Junior Olympic Games, and he he also gained the All American Rank.

Christopher sat Colby down and promised to support Colby’s decision but reminded his son that quitting meant throwing away years of hard work.

“I was like, ‘I can’t just throw that all out the window,’” Colby said. “When you love something so much, you can’t just give up.”

Colby decided to accept his injury as part of his track career.

“You got to take that and let that be fuel for the fire,” Colby said.

Even with his recovered fire for track, Christopher watched as Colby wasn’t as successful as he hoped.

“It’s tough to come back from that, not only physically but also mentally, but [Colby] never lost his desire for running,” Christopher said.

Despite his injuries, Colby’s hard work paid off. He ran the 800 and 1500 meter races in the Junior Olympics from seventh through eleventh grade.

“I almost felt like a veteran being there so many times,” Colby said.  “I know what I have to do. I am there for a reason. It’s all business.”

He realized his competitors felt differently.

“Some people were tense,” Colby said. “Some people were relaxed. You could just feel it in everything.”

As Colby stepped up to the line, one person stood out. He had on a polo shirt, khaki pants, a low visor, a clipboard and the letter M on his shirt.

“I was like, ‘Aw man, that is the Michigan coach,” Colby said. “When you look up there and notice there is a college coach, it kind of throws your head off because regardless of how you do or what age you are, a college coach is looking at you.”

As Colby refocused on his race, he faced the ferocity of his opponents.

“I was running, and someone locked their arm inside of mine. He was holding me for a good five seconds, and I had to get [him] off of me,” Colby said. “Everything’s fair game. I mean, people do dirty.  They’ll spike you, cut your leg up, they’ll push you, they’ll shove you. Anything to do to win.”

Even with the distractions, he focused on the split times his father called during the race.

“It’s almost like I’m working twice as hard because I am mathematically doing these splits while I look at the clock,” Colby said.

This past year, he didn’t place because he pulled his right calf muscle in both races.

“[It was great to] just to be able the finish the race without coming dead last because that is the worst thing,” Colby said. “A runner hates getting that pity clap. Man, we hate it.”

Colby attributes his accomplishments to the support of his family. His parents buy him what he needs, ranging from shoes to deodorant, and they attend every event possible.

“I feel like as the mom, I am the cheerleader,” his mother Janell, said.

Clark runs the 800m Final in the 2015 Georgia Olympics Boys State Track Meet in Jefferson, Georgia.
Clark runs the 800m Final in the 2015 Georgia Olympics Boys State Track Meet in Jefferson, Georgia.

She believes it’s important for Colby to act independently.

“You have to allow your child the latitude to make their own decisions because they know their body,”  Janell said. “I try to support them in whatever decision they make.”

She even supports her son’s 4:30 a.m. workouts.

Colby’s morning workouts focus on his training for the International Association of Athletics Federations World Youth Championships. The competition includes an international Track and Field competition in June and July for 16 and 17-year-olds.

“This is, like, the best of the best of the world,” Colby said. “It doesn’t get much bigger than this.”

Colby hopes to make the USA team at the championships.

“If you make the world youth team, people view you as a whole different person,” Colby said. “You are one of the top people in the world. Even if you don’t place, you are there.”

Even though track is huge for Colby, he enjoys photography, creating mixtapes for his friends and soaking up as much knowledge as possible.

“Most people don’t really get to see that side of me because no one actually takes the time to actually get down and get to know me,” Colby said. “You got to get to know people more than the sport, more than the athletics. Don’t just read the little summary. Don’t just Sparknote it.”


Photos courtesy of Colby Clark