By NATHAN DEENFebruary 15, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Wherever Megan Clark has gone during her high school years, she has set the bar high.
Her father, Col. Ron Clark, commander of the 192nd Infantry Brigade, said Megan was an all-state athlete as a sophomore at O'Neill High School in Highland Falls, N.Y., and a National Scholastic Sports Foundation track and field All-American as a junior before coming to Columbus High School in August.
Megan, a senior who is preparing for her first year with the CHS track and field team, officially signed with Duke on a track and field scholarship Wednesday at the high school.
"It's been a long time since we've had someone sign for track and field," Columbus track and field coach Mark Erb said. "We want kids to see that this is possible, it just takes a lot of hard work. She has a great work ethic, and I think she applies it to every aspect of her life."
Megan said she began pole vaulting in the ninth grade while she lived in Virginia, and in her sophomore year at O'Neill, she improved from 10 feet, 6 inches to 13 feet.
"She had a talent for just about every discipline --- hurdles, sprints, jumps and pole vaulting," Ron said. "She's a good track and field athlete in a bunch of events, but she's an exceptional pole vaulter. There are three girls nationally that have gone 13 feet, and she's one of them."
Megan said she was worried about the move to Georgia, where indoor track and field meets are not as common as in New York. Leaving her coach was also difficult, she said, but her mother, Simona, has become her trainer since the move.
"I was concerned I wouldn't have someone to train me," Megan said. "My mom really stepped up and learned how to coach pole vault."
Because of less training opportunities, Megan said she began using the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program about a month ago to help her mentally prepare for each meet.
"The techniques it's teaching me now will help me in college," she said. "There's a difference between your training mindset and competition mindset. In competition you stop thinking about everything you're doing right and wrong -- you just trust you know how to vault."
Despite having been at Columbus for only a few months, Megan said she was surprised at the support her classmates showed at the signing ceremony as dozens of students gathered in the school's auditorium.
"It's great seeing all of these people here, especially since I just moved here," she said. "Half of me is wondering if I really know all of them and if they're just skipping class to be here.
"This is my 10th school. Transferring isn't new to me anymore. It's always a little bit concerning moving to a new place ... everyone has been open and has embraced me."
Megan said she visited several other colleges -- Harvard, Virginia, Columbia and West Point-- but there was little doubt from the beginning that Duke was where she wanted to be.
"I chose Duke because it has the best balance between school and sports," she said. "I wanted to go to the best school I could and still be a great athlete."
The district season for the Columbus track and field team will begin March 7. Erb said Megan will compete in several large meets.
"We want to get her and some of our better athletes to be able to run against some of the top talent in the South," Erb said. "She'll have opportunities, it's just not going to be quite as frequent as maybe she's been accustomed to."
Megan said her goal this season is to set a new personal record and elevate herself to the level of her friend Morgann Leleux, a freshman at Georgia, who holds the national high school pole vaulting record at 14-3.
"This year I'm hoping 13-6 or 14 feet," she said. "The sky is the limit."