VAULTER VAULTER

Megan Clark: How the Army Shaped a Pole Vault Star

DURHAM, N.C. – As fans lined the fence hoping to witness history on the runways of Morris Williams Track & Field Stadium on a picturesque Saturday morning in Durham, one man stood alone atop the bleachers of the adjacent Koskinen Stadium. The man is Ron Clark, a brigadier general in the U.S. Army and also the father of Duke senior pole vaulter Megan Clark, who is mentally preparing herself as the bar rises to 15 feet, 5.75 inches, a height that would match the all-time collegiate outdoor record in the women’s pole vault. The bleachers provided the perfect birds-eye view for her father as he trained his iPad on the runway to capture his daughter’s moment on film. It’s a familiar scene for the pair, as Ron has served as Megan’s unofficial videographer since the day she first picked up a pole.

That day came roughly eight years ago as a high school freshman in Virginia. A natural athlete whose talents the coaching staff spread across a multitude of events, Megan noticed the pole vault coach with a box of popsicles in hand one practice. Convinced that pole vault couldn’t entail too much running, it was an easy decision to pursue the sport that would one day pave her road to the national spotlight.

The road, however, has been one filled with numerous twists and turns. Being the daughter of a military professional brings along the inherent task of moving from place to place. With Ron an Army veteran of nearly three decades since the age of 17, the Clark family, including Megan’s mother Simona and brother Matthew, moved 10 times since Megan’s days as a kindergartner.

“When you’re younger, everyone is moving,” Megan said. “All the schools are on military installations and everyone is pretty transient. You don’t feel like you’re missing out on much. It’s when you get to high school that you start to struggle because people have had friend groups since kindergarten, and here you are, a senior trying to break into one of them … It made me learn to adapt to situations really well and gives you a lot of people skills.”

Moving every couple of years was such a habit for Megan that the thought of calling one college home for four years seemed impossible. What she discovered was the polar opposite.

“I thought that when I came to college, I would get the itch to move after two years because that’s what we’ve done,” Megan admitted. “I thought I was going to have to transfer and was stressing out about something that didn’t even exist. I realized how easy it is to make and keep friends and the benefits that come from that.”

Another constant thought in the back of all military family members’ minds is overseas deployment. Ron, who has been deployed three times to Iraq during his career, remembers the toughest being Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, when Megan was in middle school.

“[It was a] pretty rough deployment,” Ron said. “[There were a] lot of challenges, a lot of loss during that deployment. For a parent, to understand your kid living on a military installation is dealing with a lot of the same sort of pressures, dealing with the same sort of loss, because they have friends who have parents who are also deployed to combat. It’s a challenge. We were able to communicate pretty well because of technology, able to FaceTime and talk to each other and try to be as normal as possible in those situations, but it’s tough. It’s tough all the way around for military families. A lot of times that’s the part that doesn’t get talked about, how challenging it is for the families back home.”

Although the deployments and perpetual relocations came with its fair-share of struggles, the Clark family saw plenty of silver linings. The constant moving gave the four of them the chance to experience different opportunities and meet new people at each stop. One of those spots provided Megan with the right surrounding to take her vaulting to new heights, literally.

“When we moved from Virginia to New York, it moved her to within about 45 minutes of arguably the best pole vault club in the country,” Ron said. “She went, in a matter of about 18 months, from being about a 10-foot vaulter to about a 13-foot vaulter. It was based on the fact of being in that location with the right people in her life at that time, who she may or may not have met had we not moved. It’s the new opportunities at each location that really make it what it is.”

Another natural byproduct of military life for the Clarks was the bond they shared as a family. The one constant in each of their lives was each other. As Megan discovered her talents in pole vault, the family rallied around her. With each new move came new coaches, but “Team Clark” provided a consistent carryover.

“It was a team experience,” Megan said. “We’ve done a lot of things just the four of us before, but it was a whole new level of teamwork. My mom was coaching, my dad was filming and my brother was just happy to be there. It was great to have that cheerleader alongside of you. I think it was the first thing that lasted for a long time that we all kind of did together.”

Through the highs and lows, military life has undoubtedly shaped the people Megan and Ron became; Ron himself was the son of a long-time Army professional. Facing the struggles and challenges head-on, the Clarks have persevered and came out stronger for it and have words of comfort for families facing similar situations.

“It gets better,” Megan said. “Every family kind of has that moment when their dad is deployed or their mom is deployed and you don’t really know if it’s going to be the last time you talk to them, but hopefully they come back … There will be a time when you don’t have to make new friends every two years. There will be a time when you can stay close to people and you don’t have to build a persona, you can just be yourself.”

“You can be successful,” Ron added. “You can meet your goals, meet your dreams … Although it’s hard and there are some challenges to it, you learn a lot of things about character, you learn a lot about leadership, you learn a lot about discipline, and those sorts of things you can carry into life and help you become successful down the road. I’d say those are three superlatives that I’d throw [Megan’s] way and say that other kids who use those same traits will also do well and be successful.”

As Megan looks to cap her decorated collegiate career off with one last highlight at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and sets her gaze on July’s Olympic Trials, she knows all of Team Clark will be cheering her on.

“If I’m not the biggest fan, I’m easily in the top five,” Ron said. “It’s just been a joy to watch, not just on the track, but also in the classroom and off the track. To see the way other people react to her – not because of pole vault but just because of the person she is – as a parent is very, very gratifying.”

 

 

 

From: http://www.goduke.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=4200&ATCLID=210958099

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