Christopher Clark never qualified for states in T&F. But the Olympic Trials are now on his radar.

Chris Clark was chasing a gold watch and glory at Penn Relays when his blind side caught up to him. Leading with less than 200 meters left in the 5K Championship last spring, another runner emerged on Clark’s right shoulder and pulled even. For 20 meters down the stretch they sprinted next to one another stride for stride.

Only, Clarke didn’t see him.

In fact he had no idea he was being challenged until Clark caught a glimpse of the figure gaining a step in his periphery. By then it was too late. He lost narrowly, 13:58.23 to 13:58.51.

Immediately after the race Clark was furious with himself for losing. “How could I not see him?” Clark recalled asking himself.

Then he laughed and answered his own question: “Well, duh. It’s because you can’t see him.”

Clark is blind in his right eye and can't see when runners come up on the outside. Dwell on this fact too long, however, and you’ll miss a different narrative forming. It's the one where he goes from Division II walk-on to All American to Olympian.

At California University (Pennsylvania), Clark was a 5-time All American, and holds two conference records: 29:03.1 in the 10,000 meters and 14:00.32 for an indoor 5K. He also qualified for the 2009 USA Indoor Track & Field National meet by running 7:58.83 for 3,000 meters, which stands as the 19th fastest American time this year.

The transformation, however, is not complete. Clark, 23, has moved up in distance and is now pursuing the road race circuit. Over Thanksgiving, the Puma/NYAC-sponsored athlete won the 100th running of the prestigious Run For The Diamonds, a 9-miler in Pennsylvania. His time of 45:00 is the race’s fastest time since 1999.
Next month at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in Houston, Clark debuts in the distance and will attempt to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon trials.

Clark’s ascent, however, wouldn't have been possible without losing half his vision when he was in senior high school at Commodore Perry (D10, AA), the effect of a golf accident that he calls "one-in-a-billion" when he was struck by a wayward golf ball. It ultimately forced him to abandon goals of playing basketball, a first love, in college. Instead he decided to focus on running.
Today, the accident is little more than a footnote. Clark is guided by a deep spirituality that has helped him cope with other adversity he has faced in his life. At age 15, he lost his father and soon after a close friend.

“God was shaping me,” he says. “I think all that stuff happened for a reason. He put me on this earth to run.”

The reason, he says, was to prepare him for the physical and mental challenges of being a distance runner.

“Running 8 miles? That doesn’t hurt.  Losing your dad hurts. Getting hit in the face with a ball hurts.”
Clark’s rapid success can in part be explained by a dedication to this mission. He has a fierce work ethic. Daniel Caulfield, a former All American from Adams State, the Division II powerhouse, has coached Clark since he was a freshman and contends that he has the makeup to train with the best runners in the country. He always gets enough sleep, eats right, never misses a day in the weight room or doing core workouts and keeps a consistent training pace for all distance runs.

“There’s nobody out there I can’t outwork,” Clark said. “When you think about what it takes to be a good marathoner, it takes consistency and it takes discipline.”
Clark can stay healthy while running especially high mileage at quick paces. He logs 120 mile weeks in singles, rarely runs slower than 6:30 pace and began averaging sub-6 minute miles on 20 milers as a sophomore. At 6'1" and 145 pounds, his frame has held up to the intense mileage. He has never been injured.

Such attributes are ideal for marathon training, and Caulfield is cautiously optimistic about Clark’s potential in the longer distances. To qualify for the Olympic Marathon trials in Houston next month, Clark needs to break 1:05, but Caulfield estimates that he will clear that mark by at least a minute.
“Time will tell,” Caulfield said. “He has a long way to go, but we won’t find out how good he is until another four or five years.”