It was the summer of his fourth grade year. In his own words Zach Clark was pudgy, quiet and severely lacking in hand-eye coordination. His previous summers were spent lounging around the house, playing videogames and catching up on comic books, and he was perfectly happy. Until that fateful summer when his life changed forever – he was going to summer camp.
“It sounds kind of funny to say my first summer camp was such a life changer, but it really was,” says Clark. “My dad came in and said, ‘You are not going to sit on the couch again all summer,’ and then he enrolled me in camp.” He recalls being upset, frustrated and generally annoyed at the idea of having to wake up, get dressed and go outside during his summer – that is, until he got there.
At first, dazed and confused, Clark wasn’t sure what to expect but whatever it was, he was apprehensive about it. “I didn’t really want to be there the first few hours, but when we settled down and got into the activities I thought, ‘Hey this might not be so bad after all.’” It started with arts and crafts; then it progressed into a zoo trip a few days later; then it got serious: it was time for sports. “Just when I was starting to feel pretty comfortable with the whole idea of being there, they decided to bring out the sports stuff, and my heart sunk a bit,” he recalls.
Reluctantly stepping up to the challenge, more because he had to than anything else, Clark soon found himself on the field, ready to play kickball for the second time in his life. “When I say I was uncoordinated, I mean it,” he jokes. “I was so nervous, I felt like my palms were dripping because I had just started to make a few friends, actual people even, and then I had to do this. Even though my life was just beginning I felt like it was about to be over.”
Determined, the first kick came whirling over the plate – strike one. No worries, he’ll get the next one, right? As the red ball come spiraling toward him, he wound his leg about as far back as it would go, held his breath and then, “I kicked as hard as I could, missed the ball and fell on my back in front of everyone,” he says with a laugh. “That was my first real lesson in ‘picking myself back up’ and moving on,” Clark says. The rest of the game wasn’t any better for him, but it taught him a valuable lesson.
“I learned I never wanted to do that again and feel that embarrassed, that’s for sure,” he says. His new found friends gave him a hard time, but he considers that character building. He says: “It was all part of learning to navigate the social environment as a kid, you know?” Over the course of the summer, and thanks to some extra backyard practice with his dad, Clark eventually got the hang of kickball. And football. And soccer.
Today, now 26-years-old, Clark looks back on his summer camp days as the time that changed his life. “It allowed me to make my first real friends, it put me on a path to a healthy lifestyle and got me playing the sports I’ve grown to love and still play in recreation leagues to this day,” says the now active young professional.
“I learned a lot about who I was and who I was capable of being,” says Clark. “I owe it all to that one summer and my dad wanting his couch back.”
Article by Corey Gehrold