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Bout with Cancer Helps Swimmer Grow


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Many people would be bitter after living through what Cottonwood swimmer Matt Clark did his freshman year.

From December 2000 to January 2001, Clark had a bout with skin cancer that forced him to consider his mortality and left his back wickedly scarred.

Clark would never trade the experience.

"I grew up in those three weeks," Clark said. "From what I've learned, I'm happy it happened."

Clark, now a senior, was a 14-year-old freshman when doctors removed a suspicious mole from his back. After a biopsy of the mole, a specialist came up with the diagnosis.

"My heart sunk," Clark said. "I was worried about the state swim meet in a month."

Clark asked his doctor how many days he would be out of the pool. He was told it could take several months.

"Swimming was my life, it was my sport," Clark said. "I was broken. I thought, 'This isn't real.' "

Clark was fortunate the doctors caught the cancer in its first stage, before it spread to other parts of his body. His chances of surviving were excellent, but Clark still had to consider the worst. And he hated the considering.

"To hear someone say there's a 10 percent chance that you could die . . . I didn't even like the 90 percent odds," Clark said.

After a couple of weeks of wondering, Clark went into surgery. A large swath of skin was removed from his back and a number of lymph nodes were removed near his armpits. Then, the wondering got worse.

Clark slept on his stomach and did not get out of bed for a couple of days, giving him plenty of time to think.

"That was the scariest part, just not knowing," Clark said. "That's when I realized that it was in God's hands."

The anxiety came to sudden end during a post-surgical doctor's visit. The physician entered the examination, said "Congratulations, you're fine" and went to leave the room. Clark and his parents got more information out of the doctor before he left, but the final verdict had already been stated. Clark had nothing more to worry about.

As a former cancer patient, Clark must monitor his condition for the rest of his life. But it could have been a lot worse. He never needed chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and he competed in the state swim tournament the next month.

Clark recognizes that, as cancer goes, he had an easy time of it. But the experience still changed him.

"I learned so much from the cards I was dealt," Clark said. "Really, every day is worth so much more, and I learned how much we really took things for granted. You wake up every single day and go to bed every night wondering what's going to be next for you. It was the longest three weeks of my life."

Now the student body president at Cottonwood with a 4.0 grade- point average, Clark in many ways is back to being another high school kid. His goals are to win the two events he swims in February's state championships and to play water polo in college. He has a congressional nomination to the Air Force Academy, and a passion for water polo.

But Clark can see some subtle differences in himself, compared to his classmates.

"I grew up in those three weeks," Clark said. "I look around at how the average high school kid thinks, and I don't even think about the same things."

His coach, Bryan Pavlish, certainly thinks highly of him.

"You could look up 'Poster Child for All-American Kid' and there would be a picture of Matt there," Pavlish said. "If anything, he's too hard on himself: he hasn't won a world record yet."

"[My cancer] gave everything a whole new vein, and a whole new worth," Clark said. "It impacted me a lot, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Tribune Swimming Rankings

RankSchool

CLASS 5-A

Boys

1.Skyline Eagles

Previous: First

2.Kearns Cougars

Previous: Second

3.Hunter Wolverines

Previous: Third

4.Bingham Miners

Previous: Fourth

5.Cottonwood Colts

CLASS 5-A

Girls

1.Skyline Eagles

Previous: First

2.Kearns Cougars

Previous: Second

3.Brighton Bengals

Previous: Third

4.Hunter Wolverines

Previous: Fifth

5.Bingham Miners

Previous: Fourth

CLASS 4-A

Boys

1.Logan Grizzlies

Previous: Second

2.East Leopards

Previous: First

3.Murray Spartans

Previous: Third

4.Mountain Crest Mustangs

Previous: Fourth

5.Highland Rams

CLASS 4-A

Girls

1.American Fork Cavemen

Previous: Second

2.Logan Grizzlies

Previous: Third

3.Murray Spartans

Previous: Fourth

4.Mountain Crest Mustangs

Previous: First

5.Lone Peak Knights

CLASS 3-A

Boys

1.Judge Memorial Bulldogs

Previous: First

2.Park City Miners

Previous: Third

3.Pine View Panthers

Previous: Second

4.Lehi Pioneers

Previous: Fourth

5.Ogden Tigers

Previous: Fifth

CLASS 3-A

Girls

1.Judge Memorial Bulldogs

Previous: First

2.Tooele Buffaloes

Previous: Fourth

3.Park City Miners

Previous: Second

4.Snow Canyon Warriors

Previous: Third

5.Bear River Bears

(C) 2003 The Salt Lake Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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