Sports

Former JC star Sekou Clarke says Champs shaped his life

BY HOWARD WALKER
Senior staff reporter
walkerh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 24, 2019

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Former Jamaica College (JC) athletics star Sekou Clarke, who now operates his own law firm with over 100 clients, said the rigours of Champs made him the man he is today.

The 35-year-old Clarke, who helped JC to three consecutive titles between 1998 and 2000, gained his qualification from Florida Coastal School of Law and formed the Sekou Clarke Law Group just under a year ago.

“Everything I am today was developed from competing at Champs. Coping with defeat and failure, being humble and embracing winning, working with a team and leading a team, and being always hungry for success,” Clarke told the Jamaica Observer.

“I still have dreams to this day of me competing at Champs. I can still remember the smell of the track, the electricity and energy coming from the crowd, and the nerves I would get when I would face the starter,” he noted.

“The thick skin and mental toughness I developed from competing at Champs is what I use in the courtroom and when representing clients today. The legal environment is fierce —nothing is handed to me — but it's up to me to either find a way or make a way, because people's lives are now at stake, and not points,” he said.

Clarke, who got a scholarship to University of Florida after leaving JC, is an immigrant himself and has first-hand experience with the US immigration system, allowing him to provide full-service immigration advocacy to clients from North America, the Caribbean and Europe.

“When I was in high school I did English law at A' levels so I had the interest from an early age. I've always seen myself as an advocate. Practising law is now my passion; I couldn't see myself doing anything else,” said Clarke.

“Balancing athletics and education became a way of life for me, because both my parents always emphasised the need for both because when track ends, the education would become necessary. So because I know I needed to excel in both, I learned how to sacrifice different things to support the other — such as, no party this weekend because I have a big track meet coming up, or staying up later after training to study because I know I have an exam the next day. So the discipline to prioritise and structure my time became second nature,” he explained.

Clarke's determination to succeed was evident from a tender age, as in 1998 he entered Champs as the big favourite to win the Class Three unique triple of the 100m, 200m and 400m. Seven years earlier, Ali Watson of Calabar had achieved the feat and Clarke, coached by his father the legendary Michael Clarke, was expected to win all three events.

But things didn't go according to plan, as after he won the 100m in 11.60 seconds ahead of Howard Wright of Calabar in 11.63, he picked up an injury and was withdrawn from the 400m.

But with the Champs title too close to call, the determined young Clarke turned up for the 200m and walked the event for a valuable point for his school. He stopped the clock at two minutes and 18 seconds. Calabar's Wright won in 23.28 seconds.

Clarke's contribution of 10 points helped JC to the title and ended Calabar's three-year winning streak. JC accumulated 219 points to Calabar's 196.5 and Kingston College's third place with 193 points. JC went on to capture the Mortimer Geddes trophy in 1999 and 2000, and he was integral to their success.

In 1999, as a first-year Class Two athlete, Clarke won the 400m in 49.72 and returned the following year to sweep the 200m/400m double in 21.91 and 47.57 seconds, respectively, along with the 4x100m relay.

In his first year in Class One, Clarke picked up an injury in the sprint relay heats and failed to make the final of the 400m, which he cited as the “worst moment at Champs”.

“I was very disappointed because I knew I could have won the final,” said Clarke. KC's Kimani Williams won in 47.79 seconds.

In his final year in Class One, Clarke went winless and was fourth in the 200m in 21.84, behind winner Steve Mullings of Vere Technical in a record 20.79. He was second in the 400m in 46.95 behind the winner Jermaine Gonzalez of Tacius Golding High in 46.74.

Then there were argument that his father, Michael, the most successful high school coach, had burnt him out. But in a true attorney's rebuttal Sekou Clarke responded.

“I think that argument would be valid if I didn't improve after leaving high school. I still continued to improve all through college, made the NCAA 400 final, senior trial 400 finals etc. I never trained or competed more than any other athlete in high school and I was never forced to do anything I didn't want to,” he pointed out.

“It could easily be said that my choices after leaving Jamaica contributed to my talent not being materialised, but it will always be just speculation,” he added.

“To be honest, I never felt pressured at all, because my father prided himself in being a father to me more than he prided himself being a coach. Some of the decisions he made or allowed me to make were made from a father's point of view and not an actual coach. Either way, it never added pressure for me to perform,” said Clarke.

As for him not transitioning to the professional senior level, Clarke cited numerous reasons.

“I think after college, while I was training at the senior level, I was doing my graduate studies while running my own business full-time and supporting myself financially. I rarely had the opportunity to train and focus only on competing, in addition to the constant mental pressure I put on myself to perform,” he revealed.

Since he left JC, his alma mater has won Champs only once in 2011, and he believes this year's Champs will be the “fiercest in this decade”.

“JC has made very notable structural changes within their coaching staff and team management, and the changes are already evident in this season's campaign. KC has also made some notable adjustments in their management staff and they will remain a consistent, viable threat for the title. And Calabar gets better every year at running with a target on their backs and saving their best performance for when it counts, so it should be very interesting,” said Clarke.

“Competing at Champs has taught me that if there isn't a way to win, you will find a way or make a way — and losses are as temporary as you make them.

“There are very few venues that allow a high school athlete to perform in such a rewarding but unforgiving environment. Champs also allows an athlete to recognise the need to create a winner within themselves. The Champs environment will either make you or break you. Thankfully, it made me,” ended Clarke.


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