Success with Honor: Mary Ellen Clark
Jan. 28, 2009
"Letting your body do what it is capable of doing. It takes a lot of sit-ups and mental preparation but in the heat of the moment, with all the stress weighing on you, you move calmly and powerfully in a way that is so free and so amazing that it just takes care of itself. Then you end up in the water and just go `wow that was awesome', and the score doesn't matter because you know how great it felt. That is perfection."
That is how two-time 10-meter diving Olympic Bronze Medalist Mary Ellen Clark describes the perfect dive. Clark may have hung up the swimsuit competitively, but for an individual who personifies hard work, retirement is a word, not a state of mind. It appears that Clark may be even busier now than during her time training for the Olympics.
Clark serves as the diving coach for four Massachusetts schools: Deerfield Academy, Amherst High School, Mount Holyoke College and Amherst College. Clark was most recently named Division III small school Men's Diving Coach of the Year in 2008 - an honor that she prides as much as any in her illustrious career.
"It is satisfying to do it yourself, but to help someone else achieve what they wanted is truly extraordinary."
She combines this workload with a personal training business and a motivational speaking circuit. How does she do it?
"It all starts with balance. I wake up at the crack of dawn and work with clients until about two, and then I get to the pools and work with all the teams... it helps that they are all so close.
Clark's ability to balance and stay mentally sane was something she developed during her diving career at Penn State, as well as in two Olympic experiences, neither of which was a walk in the park. Clark, a 1985 Penn State graduate, was pushed to new heights while competing in a relatively new event in collegiate diving.
"At Penn State I knew I was there for academics first, and then athletics and my social life. I approached college like that and made sure to pursue my career in the same way."
After finishing her masters at Ohio State in Physical Education, she trained for the Olympics and started her roller coaster experience.
Clark's first Olympic experience should have been magical but with her father undergoing bypass surgery during the Games, she was quickly brought back to a harsher reality.
"With half my family with him and the other with me, I was quickly grounded, and it made every part of the game more memorable and the results less important."
Clark was the only diver to attend the opening ceremonies as they were the day before competition. She chose to ignore that and still walked out of Barcelona with an improbable Bronze Medal for the United States.
"There was no pressure on me. People weren't looking for me to medal; I just went, had a good time and did my thing, which happened to result in a medal. Everyone thought I was going to retire."
Shocking most by returning for a second go, Clark's 1996 Atlanta Olympics campaign was no easier as her father was fighting cancer while she was fighting a year-long battle with vertigo - not a great condition for a 10-meter diver. Once again Clark just blocked it out and represented the United States with her second Bronze Medal.
Despite the hardships, Clark refuses to take all the credit.
"I was very fortunate in my career to end up with two medals and however many championships. It was such a team effort from family, friends, coaches and teammates; I look back and just say it was overwhelming and storybook."
Her story may be a fairytale but it is not finished, as she has started a second chapter her second life.
Mary Ellen Clark seems to possess the ability to not only motivate herself, but also anyone who hears her speak. And though it wasn't always the plan, she found an affinity for coaching.
"I can relate to them. They have fears; they have all the stuff I had when I was little. It is scary. I can almost read their minds because I know exactly how they are feeling."
Clark has seen success in every aspect of her diving career, and that's where the question lies... what drives an individual who has nothing to prove?
"It takes inward drive and motivation. My coach used to tell me that he would have to kick me out of the pool as opposed to in it."
She brings this same mentality to her personal training, in which she works right with her clients to reach their goals; one of which will result in her participation in April's Boston Marathon.
Outside of training people physically, she has also shows a talent for motivating those who spend the majority of their time in an office chair.
"I speak at commencement ceremonies, Fortune 500 companies, any group that is trying to succeed at the next level; sometimes it is just finding that motivation to make the leap."
Seeing something in a diver is no different than seeing potential in any individual; that it is what Clark has set out to do.
"When you have a coach who sees something in you as an athlete that you don't really see in yourself, that is really special and that's what Bob (Goldberg, former Penn State diving coach) did for me".
The ability to acknowledge a hidden talent or the drive that is just below the surface I something that Clark has carried on in her career outside of platform diving. She now represents all that great characteristics that she saw in her coaches growing up.
"I think it all comes from the great coaching I had in my life, starting right with my dad and then at Penn State and the Olympics...I was just lucky."