Interview with Robin Clark by Dale Peterson

Robin was born and raised in Willits about 90 miles north of Santa Rosa.  She grew up playing just about every sport that involved throwing, catching or shooting a ball.  By her own account she was a bit of a tomboy and loved the competitive nature of team sports. She played softball, volleyball, and basketball in middle and high school and football and baseball in elementary and junior high.
In high school, Robin started to get recruited by colleges to play both basketball and softball.  She decided to accept a scholarship offer to play basketball at the University of San Francisco.
After graduating from USF, Robin stayed another two years to  earn a her masters degree in Sports Administration/Management.  She got a part time job at a K-8 school in the city while working on her masters degree.  She loved working with children and coaching and started to consider teaching as a career.   Upon obtaining her teaching credential, she started teaching and coaching at the high school level but after a few years she decided she would rather coach the younger kids.  She ended up at Comstock Middle School on the west side of Santa Rosa teaching and coaching cross country, track, volleyball and basketball.
Robin lives in Healdsburg with her husband ( a retired PE/Biology teacher/track and field coach) and her Golden Retriever Amigo.
Robin became a runner after her college basketball playing days were done says that she loves the way running makes her feel and that she loves how she can get lost in her thoughts when running.
Robin is also  very competitive with her running and enjoys seeing her personal gains achievements as a runner.
Robin has qualified for the Boston Marathon twice and has a personal best of 3:29.
Robin says that nothing in her previous athletic experience that compares to running across the Boston Marathon finish line.
Robin would like to be able to run Boston in the future with some of the students she once taught and introduced to the sport of running.
You were quite an athlete growing up, competing in softball, basketball and volleyball.  When did you start running for the sake of running as opposed to as part of your training for other sports?
I started running for the sake of running my first year teaching.  My competitive athletic career was complete when I graduated from college and I knew I had to stay active and running became my sport of choice.  As a graduate student in the city , I started running daily in Golden Gate Park and really fell in love with the sport .  Some of my friends were runners and they encouraged me to sign up for the Bay to Breakers and I was hooked. By signing up for races, it has motivated me to really learn more about the sport and training for races.
You taught and coached at the high school level for four years before you realized that you wanted to work with the younger middle school aged kids.  What is it that draws you to the younger kids?

I taught high school for four years before switching to the middle school.  The younger kids are so excited to learn and have so much energy every day.  I absolutely love their willingness to try new things, get sweaty, and their silliness.  At the middle school level, I get to teach the kids everything for the first time.  I get to introduce them to new games, new sports and teach them how important living a healthy and active lifestyle will be throughout their entire lives.

Your background is primarily “ball sports” – how did you make the transition to coaching Cross-Country and Track?
 I started coaching cross country and track when I started teaching middle school.  At this point in my life, I had been running about 6 years and it was a huge part of my life.  The Comstock cross-country program had four students on the team the previous year, and I felt we could do much better than that.  I decided to take over the program and get more kids involved in this amazing sport.  My husband was a PE teacher, track coach and ran in college at Chico State so he helped me out quite a bit with the workouts and taught me pretty much everything I know about teaching/coaching  young kids.  At the middle school level, my goal is to make running fun  for the kids so they will continue to run in high school and beyond.
Working with 180 kids a day must be tremendously challenging – tell us a bit about that.
Teaching 180 kids every day in my PE classes can be challenging at times, but it is also very rewarding to give the gift of health to my students.  I tell them there is nothing more important than their health and without it they have nothing.  The quality of life is so much more rewarding when you are healthy and can enjoy it.  I make it a priority to do everything I ask my students and athletes to do so they see why working out is important. I feel it is my job to be a positive role model and to not only tell them how to be healthy, but to show them how to be healthy.
Having fifty or sixty kids in a middle-school running program is quite an accomplishment – what do you feel is the secret to getting them and keeping them interested?
I believe the reason we are able to keep fifty-plus kids in the Comstock running program is because we focus on making running fun.  Running to me is not about winning at the middle school level. I never talk to the kids about winning races or championships.  We focus on getting better, setting short and long term goals, making new friends and simply enjoying what running gives to us individually.  I talk a lot about the opportunities and benefits running could offer the kids.
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Comstock Middle School kids jumping for joy!
Tell our readers a bit more about your running club modeled after the SRLA running program down in Los Angeles – how does it work exactly?  How do kids earn free running shoes etc?

The Comstock running club was modeled after the very successful SRLA program in Los Angeles.  I heard about SRLA from an administrator who taught in an inner city LA school. He was a volunteer coach for his school and trained a group of students to run/complete the LA Marathon.  I was amazed that 12/13 year old kids could accomplish such a challenging run.  This program in LA has major sponsors, lots of corporate support and volunteer coaches who make it a reality.  I wanted to try to create something very similar to the SRLA program, but my biggest challenge became  the funding to get kids registered in local races and providing my needy kids with high quality running shoes.  We still struggle to fund the expensive race entry fees, but every year we find a way to make it happen.

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Comstock Middle School runners off another adventure.
The kids earn free running shoes from me by working hard, having good attendance and showing me they are dedicated to the sport.  Each year, I use my track coaching stipend to purchase 30 pairs of shoes. The kids earn a free pair by showing me they are serious about their running.
Do you keep tabs on your former student-athletes?  How many went on to successful high school and college running careers?

 

I keep in contact with all of my former student-athletes running in college.  I invite them back to run the half marathon in San Francisco during Christmas break and travel to watch many of them run In college.  The kids give me so much joy and bring so much happiness to my life.  Being able to cheer them on and support them is very important to me.  Last year, my husband and I traveled to Virginia, Wisconsin, Oregon, Fresno, Los Angeles and Stanford to watch my former athletes compete.

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Robin with Empire standout Luis Luna
Outside of your work at Comstock Middle School, how is your running going these days?  Your 3:29 marathon PR is very impressive!  What are your short term and long term goals?

My running is going pretty well.  I am training to run the Rock n Roll Arizona Marathon in January and two half marathons this year.

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Robin Clark – educator, coach and runner.
Long term /bucket list goals for running would be to run Boston again with some of my former athletes, run the New York City Marathon and the Nashville Rock n Roll Marathon.  Running is such a gift and has given me the opportunity to travel, meet new friends and watch my students enroll and graduate from college.
Who has been the greatest influence on you as an educator and coach?
My husband has been the biggest influence on me as an educator and a coach. He has taught me the true meaning of education.  We have been fortunate to be able to help my athletes in a variety of ways, and all I have ever asked in return is for them to pay it forward when they are able to do the same.
Any question you wished I had asked or anything you want to be sure to share with our readers?
Thank you for allowing me to talk about my amazing students and the joy they have given and added to my life!

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