Gator track legend Hazel Clark shares advice from her dad, Joe Clark.
Three-time 800-meters track Olympian, six-time U.S. champion and UF Athletics Hall of Fame member Hazel Clark (BA ’01) will celebrate Father’s Day in a different way this year.
Her famous dad, Joe Clark Sr., the U.S. Army sergeant turned baseball bat- and bullhorn-wielding inner-city high school principal, portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the movie “Lean on Me,” died in December in Gainesville at age 82. Clark’s ability to turn around failing schools and inspire student success through tough love is legendary. His methods were also hotly debated worldwide when the film, about Paterson, New Jersey’s Eastside High, was released in 1989.
This Father’s Day, Hazel Clark, director of sports for the Bermuda Tourism Authority, is passing on the following questions her father asked of his students in his career as an educator, and of his children at home.
1. How do you react to adversity?
Hazel: My father was a staunch disciplinarian. He raised us to where accountability was first, understanding there was no time for pity parties. I remember I fell down at a race at UF and I was feeling sorry for myself because I knew I could have won NCAAs that year. He just wasn’t the type to coddle you. He said, “I bet you’ll get out next time, too, with an attitude like that.” He was like, “Get out there, get over it, face challenges head on.” And it’s helped me in life … I’m so grateful for that. It’s no coincidence that my siblings and I went on to be Olympians and world-class coaches because he gave us the foundation for that.
2. Are you speaking truths?
Hazel: My father’s tactics wouldn’t fly in a lot of places today. But I do believe we have to hold young people accountable. And I’ve seen the young people that my dad had connections with – his students – they gravitated toward the discipline he provided. They gravitated toward that tough love. They gravitated toward someone caring for them enough to tell the truth. And for me, sometimes the lessons were tough, but life is tough. Young people have to prepare for the realities of life. Life is not easy. If you coddle them, when they get out in the real world, they’ll be in trouble.
3. Are you prepared?
Hazel: These Olympic athletes who are facing the possible second postponement of their games are in such a difficult situation. When you’re training, you need to see that finish line. The U.S. team is the hardest team in the world to make. Many of (the athletes) don’t make a lot of money. They struggle and sacrifice to compete. Those that persevere though this are the ones who can channel their energy. They have to still find their “why” – why they train every day. They must still be laser focused on the goal. Whenever the opportunity comes, they have to be prepared to seize the opportunity. The worst feeling in the world is to not be prepared. The same is true for all of us.
4. What is temporary? Permanent?
Hazel: My Dad said, “When you get knocked down – and you will – you have to get back up.” Pain and disappointment are temporary. I had (foot) navicular stress fractures in college and no one knew it at the time; I just pushed through the pain. Then at the Olympics in Athens when I got burned (by a hairdresser who accidentally spilled boiling water down her back), that was a major setback and very disappointing. So many things happen that might make you want to quit. But for me I just felt it was a test of resilience and an opportunity to show the champion I could be. I try to tell my young people that. I share those stories at my Nike sports camps. The kids will say, “You’re a three-time Olympian, you don’t understand what we’re going through.” I have to share the downs because sometimes people only see your ups and they don’t know what it took to get where you are.
5. What really matters?
Hazel: I may have been undefeated in SEC competition in college, but people won’t remember that about me. They’ll remember how I made them feel and what I gave to my community. So live a life of service and be a champion for your community. That’s what I’m trying to do with every opportunity to bring teams and athletes and tournaments to Bermuda – turn those into ways for the young people in this community to learn and grow, too.
6. Just how hard did you try?
Hazel: My dad used to say, “If better is possible, good is not enough.” When you look in the mirror and know without a doubt that you’ve left every ounce of energy and effort on the track or the field or in the office, that’s what makes you a champion. There are a lot of people who have tons of talent but don’t do everything they need to do to be on the top of their game. That’s not a champion. A champion is someone who may not have as much talent, but does every single thing in their power to give it their best. That’s not just in sports, that’s everything in life. I hope every Gator will look at their tasks that way.
7. Did you say thank you?
Hazel: My UF Hall of Fame induction was so special. That was the time I had the opportunity to thank my father. Many people don’t know this: He never missed a race. He went to every college race – from scrimmage to NCAAs – my entire college career: cross country, indoor and outdoor. At my induction, I had the chance to thank him for that. It’s the only time I ever saw my father cry. I looked out and saw his tears roll down. We joked that he secretly had a private jet because he was always there. I said, “I’m so appreciative knowing that you’d always be there cheering me on.” Dad was on a lecture circuit. He would sometimes have no voice because he’d go speak somewhere, then fly to see me and fly right back out. He wouldn’t have time to stay or even have dinner. He was such a dedicated Dad. But that brings me to tears. Now that I’m a parent, I recognize that sacrifice and what that takes. I’m so grateful that I had a Dad like that.