Lean on Me
Competing against your sister isn't easy. Imagine doing it in front of millions of people for a shot at a gold medal in the Olympic Games.
This month, Hazel Clark, 22, will crouch at the starting line in the 800-meter run in Sydney, alongside her sister, four-time Olympian Joetta Clark-Diggs, 38, and her sister-in-law, three-time Olympian Jearl Miles-Clark, 34.
At least she has some experience. At the U.S. Olympic track and field trials this summer, the three Clarks finished 1-2-3 in the 800-meter final to make the Olympic team. Hazel, known as "Baby Clark" in the track world, won the race.
Joetta has been a world-class athlete since Hazel was a baby. "I've admired Joetta all my life. I used to hang over the railing at Madison Square Garden and watch her run.And now I'm standing there next to her," Hazel said. "[But] I have to realize that on the track she's just another competitor."
Joetta is going to her last Olympics; Hazel her first. Joetta has forged a successful second career as a motivational speaker and sports commissioner; Hazel just graduated from college. Joetta is serious; Hazel, she herself admits, sometimes is not.
Called "Peachy" by her family and friends, Hazel is bubbly and outgoing. She once skipped practice to go Jet Skiing with friends. When she returned, Jearl warned her if she missed any more workouts she'd be "MIS" (Missing in Sydney). Hazel got the hint.
"I'm young and I like to have a social life. I like to dance and do the club thing," she said. "ButI realized I had to buckle down, sacrifice and make the team."
Her current training regimen includes a distance run in the morning, weightlifting at midday and speed intervals on the track in the afternoon. J.J. Clark, Hazel and Joetta's brother and Jearl's husband, coaches all three women.
Imagine growing up with an Olympian for a big sister, a college track star for a brother, and a notoriously strict high school principal for a father.
You might feel overshadowed by greatness.
"Living up to a certain standardlearning to deal with that and represent my family in a positive manner [was] tough," Hazel admitted.
In a family of runners, she decided to branch out and be a figure skater. She quit after 12 years. "I was just so bad at it!" she laughed. "I kept fallingI was like, 'I'm going to kill myself out here.'"
It wasn't until her junior year of high school that she ran her first race. "[It] wasn't a smashing success. I walked to the finish line," she remembered. "But my dad said that I was going to be something special, and he made me believe it."
One year later, Hazel was the top-ranked high school 800-meter runner in the nation. She went on to win four NCAA titles at the University of Florida.
Being a high school and college track star wasn't always easy, and Hazel said she realizes other athletes probably share her experience.
"You can be in friendships that aren't necessarily positive. It's taken me time to learn to surround myself with positive relationships, people who are going to make me feel better about myself, not tear me down," she said.
"You want to surround yourself with people who aren't resentful of what you're trying to accomplishincluding boyfriends or friends who are threatened by your success."
Her advice: "You don't need a relationship, drugs or alcohol to make you feel like something. [Instead], just keep your head up, be strong-willed and strong-minded, and focus on your goals."
Now that she's reached success in her sport, Hazel wants to stay put.
"Joetta and Jearl show me how to take care of my body and be disciplined. If I don't conduct myself the way they do, I won't have their longevity."
She's excited about Sydney and can't wait to unpack her bags in the Olympic Village, where she hopes to meet other athletes her age. "[The U.S. Olympic Committee] even gave us cell phones," she exclaimed.
Although Maria Mutola of Mozambique is the pre-race favorite, all three Clarks could surprise. "If we each do our part, things usually fall together as a unit," Hazel said.
"We're going to get out there and run our hardest, and no matter where that leads us we're going to walk out with our heads high."