Sports Column: Giving back to the sport he loves

12/11/2012 2:08 PM |

COURTESY PHOTO | Cliff Clark, No. 301,competing at the highest level in the 1972 Olympic Trials 5000 Meters with Steve Prefontaine, No. 229, Tracy Smith, No. 398, and Gerry Lindgren in the striped shirt.

When I think about cross country or 10K races or anything to do with sports on Shelter Island, my mind always turns toward Clifford Clark.

Back in the ‘60s, when running wasn’t popular, you could always see a young Cliff jogging around the island. I remembered him as a basketball and baseball player in high school and when college came for him, he became a runner.

Back then if you noticed someone walking or running along the street you would always stop and ask if they needed a ride, but today, you know better. Back in the late 60’s I got the bug when I read a book that I think did more for walking and running than any other. Written by Dr. Kenneth Cooper (an M.D. and U.S. Air Force colonel) and published 1968, it and was simply titled “Aerobics.” Dr. Cooper made running sound both fun and simple. His “Bedrock Principle # 1” declares that almost everyone should engage in regular, but moderate aerobic exercise. Cooper wrote: “The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence demonstrates conclusively that abandoning a sedentary lifestyle and following a MODERATE exercise routine will greatly reduce your risk of dying from all causes — and enhances your chance of living a longer, more active life.”

That was enough for me.

So this week, when I met with Cliff Clark, I couldn’t help notice throughout the entire conversation the values that make Cliff who he is. Namely, that it’s important to give back to the sport. Cliff is all about passing on his knowledge to anyone who wants to better themselves. Although a championship runner himself, like everyone, he had his idols. One was Dr. Clark, his college coach from Harding College, and the other, his father. Unfortunately, Dr. Clark, died at an early age, but not before passing on his message to Cliff about helping others. After the doctor’s passing, it was Cliff who took on the role of student coach at Harding College. His other idol, his father, he felt was a master teacher always ready to share his expertise with anyone.

When I mentioned to Cliff my knowledge of Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s work and how he inspired me to run and later walk for over 20 years, Cliff informed me that he knew him. They were both in the Air Force and the doctor actually confided in Clark and asked for his help and thoughts while writing his famous book.

During our conversation, I couldn’t help noticing how uncomfortable Cliff was that he was getting credit without giving credit. But let’s get real; back in 1967 when no one was thinking of running, he started a kids’ running group and a two-mile race. Interestingly, the winner of that first run was Justin Gibbons of Southampton, and 13 years later the first 10K winner was also the same Justin Gibbons. He coached the school team for 18 years starting in 1976 and produced star runners like Janelle Kraus, Alexis Hamblet and Toby Green.

Together with John Strode, and Jack Fath and Cliff put together the first 10K run with all three believing the purpose was to give back to the sport. Even though Cliff is currently out of the limelight of the 10K, the success of this race has put Shelter Island on the map for the last 30 years. For the past seven years this race has been in the capable hands of Mary Ellen Adipietro as director. Although many islanders work the race, Cliff said I must give credit to a few people who are always there to make things better, such as James Eklund, Chuck Kraus and Jackie Tuttle.

Over the last few years things were starting to slow down a bit for Shelter Island runners. New school superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes, a man that believes strongly in lifetime sports and a running program, decided to become proactive. So this past August, Toby Green started and is coaching the Shelter Island running club. At the present time they have 15 kids that are involved three days a week after school on Saturdays.

Stay involved and don’t let this fail because in the long run, this program will build both character and a healthy body in all of us.

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