Gators men’s cross-country runner Jimmy Clark never really liked running. From about age 4 until his high school sophomore year, soccer was his passion.
Then came a piece of paper in the mail, offering him a scholarship. Clark said that moment threw “everything else out the window.”
His first college letter wasn’t from a school with a men’s soccer team. It came from the University of Florida cross-country program.
“I actually hated the Gators when I was growing up,” Clark said. “But when I got my first recruiting letters from here, a lot changed.”
One morning, Clark said he raced in Jacksonville, then hustled into the family car to drive four hours to Tampa for a soccer tournament. The day was so hurried he had to change on the field into cleats and soccer gear.
That day, he returned to his Jacksonville home to the letter from Gainesville.
“I got that first letter and that was really my first wake-up call that I think I’m going to have to stop playing soccer because my future is in running,” he said.
His cross-country coach at Creekside High, Eric Frank, forced Clark to run. Ask anyone, Clark said; soccer was his thing.
“The amount of times (coaches) had to convince me to stay out and actually run is surprising to a lot of people,” he said. “I just didn’t want to do it.”
After Frank threw Clark into a three-times-weekly running schedule, Clark made the state meet as a sophomore. He shattered the Class 3A 5K record with 14:58.47 in 2010. The next month, he posted 15:24 for seventh place in the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego. He was named Gatorade Florida Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year in 2011.
Somewhere along the line, running became his priority and passion.
When he enrolled at UF, Clark said it took him about a year and a half to adjust to college life.
“When you come out of high school as one of the best in the state or one of the best in the nation, you’re on top,” he said. “And when you come in here, you get humbled. You’re not at the top of the totem poll anymore.”
But he kept grinding, ending his first collegiate season as SEC Men’s Freshman Runner of the Year.
Now a junior, Clark has revamped his diet and training regime. He ran a career-best 23:53.78 in an 8K Sept. 14 at the Mountain Dew Invite at UF’s Mark Bostick Golf Course and was recognized as the Southeastern Conference Men’s runner of the week – and that’s just within the first month of the cross-country season.
Every morning, his alarm wakes him at 5:30 for 6 a.m. practice, classes, more practice and more class. Most days, he said he wants to just eat and go to bed by the end of the day. But, Clark said, there’s nowhere other than Gainesville he’d rather be.