Sky Clarke practices what she preaches. As the 21st Theater Sustainment Command’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Coordinator, she encourages and empowers Soldiers, civilians and their families to live their best lives, and sets an impressive example for them to follow.
Clarke epitomizes this year’s National Women’s History Month theme “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope”.
Clarke doesn’t just take every opportunity to provide healing and promote hope, she makes opportunities. Since assuming responsibility for improving 21st TSC’s Soldier performance and readiness last July, Clarke has developed outreach programs, produced special events and influenced command policies. She raises awareness of mental and physical health needs and makes it easier for Team 21 to meet those needs.
While she works towards the highest standards for command wellness, Clarke understands that barriers, ranging from time constraints and self-doubt to lack of social support, can seem insurmountable. But she also knows, from personal experience, that they can be overcome. She is passionate about sharing that message and helping others achieve their wellness goals.
“True wealth is in health,” said Clarke. “You can have all the money in the world, you can have all sorts of material goods, but if you don’t have your health, none of that matters.”
Clarke has always made fitness a priority. She was a five-sport athlete at Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon and was on Oregon State University’s rowing team. She eventually earned a master’s degree in elementary education and special education from the University of Oregon with plans to teach.
However, a 2003 internship running a summer Child and Youth Services program for the Army in Wiesbaden, Germany changed her course.
“I fell in love with working for the Army,” said Clarke. “It completely shifted my career path.”
She interned with the Army every summer while working on her degree, completing practicum requirements through internships in Germany, Norway, Italy, and Japan. She graduated with her master’s degree at age 21. She was hired to work full-time in Vicenza, Italy, and continued with Child Development and School Age Centers for 12 years.
Her career path took her to Ft. Hood, Texas and Ft. Carson, Colorado, before a post at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, where she made the leap from youth sports to adult sports. While at White Sands, she also oversaw the Civilian Wellness Program and served on the Commander’s Ready and Resiliency Council.
These experiences prepared her for her next assignment back to Germany and the 21st TSC.
“As soon as this position opened, I jumped on it and applied because this was everything I am passionate about inside and outside of my career,” said Clarke.
That passion, combined with her academic and professional experiences help her meet the challenge of serving the 21st TSC’s vast geographic footprint. Implementing programs and providing services across the European continent, including forward operating sites, during a global pandemic requires commitment, expertise and energy.
Those are qualities colleagues like U.S. Army Garrison-Rheinland-Pfalz Installation Suicide Prevention Manager Lathan Newkirk has seen in action at White Sands and in Germany.
“Sky Clarke is the consummate professional,” said Newkirk. “She is always up to the task and looking for new ways to contribute to the overall well-being of the people here in the KMC. Knowing her for the past five years, I believe she is motivated to be the best at what she does. You can see this in her dedication to CrossFit and zeal in performing her duties as the 21st TSC CSF Manager.”
Clarke’s duties include being the point person for suicide prevention, Civilian wellness, and holistic health throughout the 21st TSC. She is also responsible for the command’s Master Resiliency Training. She draws on her academic background in education to offer more realistic, interactive workshops that aren’t dependent on slide decks.
“I really feel like those presentations are not very effective if someone just comes and sits down and we go through a few PowerPoint presentations,” said Clarke. “It’s really hard to have that real life implementation and understanding. So, how can I make this different? How can I make this relevant and fun?”
She envisions training where Service Members actually complete a project or physical activity using the skills being taught, like an escape room challenge.
Clarke shares her personal experiences overcoming challenges, with the hopes she can help others build resiliency.
“I want to share that I’ve gone through hard times, divorce, late stage miscarriage,” said Clarke. “I understand grief. And if there’s anything that I can do to help others in that state, that’s what life is about. Helping those around you.”
An avid athlete, she relied on running in the mornings before work to handle stress, get fresh air and reset each day.
“Unfortunately, before I even turned 30, I was having knee and hip issues,” said Clarke. Doctors told her if she did not stop running she would most likely need a knee or hip replacement or both. She had to find another physical outlet.
Although she had never lifted a barbell, she tried CrossFit.
“I remember my first workout was like 20 minutes and I could barely move the next day,” said Clarke. “I was so sore, but I loved it.”
She was a new mom, working one of the most stressful jobs in her career, and her husband at the time was in Korea, so she appreciated the close-knit CrossFit community.
“The combination of the physical outlet and focus for me was important, but the community aspect as a single mom…that’s my family, that’s my friends, that’s who has supported me through hard times—through a divorce, through PCSs.
“I ended up getting my CrossFit level 1 training, because I was trying to learn the science behind CrossFit. And once I did that, I completely fell in love with it even more.”
Last fall, Clarke qualified for the German Throwdown world-wide competition in Mainz, which limited participation to the top 10 athletes in every age group. She placed eighth overall in the 35-39 age group.
“It was amazing,” said Clarke. “The most challenging [physical] experience in my life, but very, very inspiring.”
Clarke inspires others as she trains and coaches at Teutonic CrossFit in Kaiserslautern. She has her level 2 CrossFit certification and is an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and group exercise instructor.
“I love coaching,” said Clarke. “To me, my two positions complement each other very well because they’re both about making people stronger and healthier mentally and physically.”
Her advice for individuals who are experiencing difficult times, or who want to build resiliency is to take care of the basics.
“I really believe in the foundation,” said Clarke. “Taking care of the most basic things that you can do, meaning sleep, and eat and hydration. I know they seem basic…but your body and your mind will not function if its sleep deprived or you’re not eating healthy or you’re dehydrated.”
Clarke advises looking at the big picture when going through a stressful period.
“Often when we look at one little small chapter of our life, it’s hard to see how the bigger picture unfolds,” said Clarke. “So, in a transition time, whether it’s a new career, or a divorce, or some form of hardship, at the time we don’t understand why it’s happening. But I’ve started to think about how I will view this in 10 years. Often, things that I thought were going to devastate my life shifted me into a whole new direction that I had no idea I would ever be on. When you have that different perspective, it can take off the pressure of ‘Why is this happening?’ You realize, ‘Hey, I might not understand what’s happening now, but in 10 years, I’ll look back and understand why it happened.’
“You are going to be thrown curveballs and you have to figure out how to maneuver around it.”
Clarke stands ready to support anyone who needs help with those curveballs.
“I feel like the whole purpose of my job is to help other people become stronger and healthier,” she said. “And as someone who has had really hard times, if it wasn’t for other people helping me or having the skills or the strength to just keep pushing through knowing that on the other side I will see the bigger picture, I don’t know if I’d be where I’m at today.”
Although the 21st TSC’s motto is “First in Support!’ Clarke is okay if she’s not someone’s first choice for help. She promotes all available resources and is quick to help individuals find and connect with other programs including Military Family Life Consultants, Religious Services, behavioral health, Army Community Services and Army Substance Abuse Program.
“If one didn’t work, don’t stop there,” said Clarke. “You owe it to yourself to keep trying to find what will fit and get you through that hard time.”
Clarke has found her fit at 21st TSC, providing healing and promoting hope.