By Dan Hardenbrook

Nearly eight million kids in the United States participate in high school sports. Only 480,000 earn the right to compete at the college level. The NCAA says that less than 7% overall advance to the next level, and that less than 2% will earn a Division 1 or 2 scholarship. The numbers are even less for females.

The odds would suggest it’s almost impossible. But the odds have never met someone quite like Newberry senior Kaylen Clark.

After smashing and setting records during a decorated career at NHS, Clark will now set her sights on defying what many say couldn’t be done. And she will do it not once, not twice, but three times at Davenport University downstate.

After accepting an offer to run cross country and track for the Davenport University Panthers, Clark has also committed to play hockey. Clark began as a Pee Wee State Champion “born in the Barn” and excelled, becoming an accomplished travel hockey player. Most recently she was a member of the nationally recognized K Stars program.

But even she admits this triple-feat seemed unlikely.

“If you would’ve asked me even last year if I was going to play any college sports, I would’ve told you no,” says Clark. “I started to lose my love for all sports and felt like I wasn’t good enough to continue. If it wasn’t for Cori Canfield (Girls Track Coach), Drew Schultz (Boys Track Coach), and Tony Kitzman (Cross Country Coach/AD) I don’t think I would still be playing all these sports.”

Clark credits her parents for instilling in her that hard work trumps talent. It was that work ethic and desire that helped get her this far.

“Nothing in life is handed to you and I learned that at a young age,” she said. “I think being successful in my sports taught me to keep working. From winning two state championships with the boys to winning U.P. championships in cross country and track, it fuels the passion.”

She’s excited again – both to compete at a higher level, and to earn a degree that should help launch her career.

While making it in one single sport is hard enough, Clark soon realized she would have her pick. For some it may have been easy, but for Kaylen, it brought her to a crossroads where she was faced with giving up a game that she truly loves.

“After I signed for cross country and track, I realized I had to come to terms with saying goodbye to hockey at the end of the season. It was only a week ago that I found out playing hockey was even an option in college. The coach called me, watched me play one game, and I signed the very next day. It was a crazy experience.”

Now the craziness is only beginning for the small-town girl who will soon be doing bigger things, chasing her dream playing three sports while also trying to deal with the chaos of college.

“I don’t really have a plan on how I’m going to do it all yet. I think a lot of people think I’m crazy for doing three sports but it’s all I’ve known my entire life. I know that school will come first but I’m prepared for the crazy practices and hours I’ll spend studying, she says. “I’ve been balancing playing three sports since 6th grade so I’m used to the craziness. I’ve had coaches who have pushed me to my limits and for that I’m thankful.”

As for Davenport, it was never a doubt. She fell in love with the campus. “I picked Davenport before I even knew I wanted to play sports,” she said.

Every sacrifice during her undergraduate years has been worth it, she said. “I’ve had to give up attending basketball games, hanging out with friends, and sometimes being a kid, but I would never change any of it. I’ve met so many new people and coaches who have been amazing.”

Kaylen says she will miss those who have always been in her corner the most. “I’ll miss having my friends and family at every meet cheering me on. I’ll miss Cori, Drew, and Kitzman yelling at me during races and I’ll miss my parents chasing me down, telling me to run faster.”

It’s a support system that she will always cherish. Clark is grateful to her parents for modifying their schedules to take her to meets and tournaments around the country.

“They are the reason I work so hard,” she said. “Thank you to Cori, Drew, and Kitzman for believing in me even when I was injured, pushed beyond my limits. They picked me up when I was down. Thank you to Ben Rahilly and John Nutkins for making me the hockey player I am today. For giving me the confidence to play at a higher level and for creating my love for hockey. Thank you to every single person who has congratulated me, wished me luck, or has ever done anything for me. Without this support, there was no chance for me to be successful.”