View Full Version : Ryan Clark's life and near-death story 'incredibly inspiring

02-06-2011, 06:03 AM
Ryan Clark's life and near-death story 'incredibly inspiring'

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Matt Hayes
Sporting News

FORT WORTH, Texas — Of all the ways it could have unfolded, of all the unthinkable and unimaginable ways, how in the world could it have come to this: A man who should have all the answers standing at the side of Ryan Clark's bed with none at all.

"The doctor looked at me," Clark said, "and said, 'We're going to pray together.' "
Ryan Clark's life and near-death story 'incredibly inspiring' Steelers safety Ryan Clark dons a Troy Polamalu wig during Super Bowl XLV media day. (AP Photo)

That was the day Steelers safety Ryan Clark thought he was going to die. The anemia that had ravaged his body from complications of the sickle cell trait was so bad — so incredibly painful and real — he was ready to go.

And by go, we mean, go.

"I remember telling God, 'If it's time, let me go now. I'm tired of this,' " Clark said.

It's hard to believe this gregarious man, this 210-pound athlete of cut muscle, was three years ago reduced to a 165-pound shell of himself after the thin air in Denver set off complications of the sickle cell trait so severe during a game vs. the Broncos, it eventually cost Clark his spleen, his gall bladder, and worst of all, his hope.

A month earlier, he was developing into a legitimate NFL star, a free safety with speed and punch who made it the hard way in a league that doesn't discriminate. You can play or you can't in the NFL; there's nowhere to hide those who can't.

And there's no explanation for those told they can't but never give up.

"His story," says Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, Clark's best friend on the team, "is incredibly inspiring."

After making it as an undrafted free agent with the Giants in '02, he was cut after two years in New York. After playing two seasons with the Redskins, he was allowed to leave in free agency. Clark then landed with the Steelers and played his way into the starting lineup.

He played so well in '06 and '07, Polamalu says Clark's ability to cover allowed him to freelance more and make game-turning plays. Think about that: The game's most feared defensive player, the league's defensive player of the year this season, says he reached his potential because Clark reached his, too.

Now think about Clark three years ago, laying on the bathroom floor in his hotel room a week after the complications in Denver, calling his wife and telling her he wasn't going to make it. A month later, after doctors located the infected organ and took out his spleen, he was lying on his bed in his suburban Pittsburgh home and couldn't get warm.

They put every blanket in the house on him. His wife, Sheila, pulled out her hair dryer, plugged it in and held it under the covers. And still, the shivering cold sweats continued.

Once they arrived at the hospital, doctors realized the anemia from the sickle cell also had damaged his gall bladder and removed it. The next day, when things didn't get much better, Clark heard words that brought everything into a sudden, surreal focus.

"When a man of medicine looks at your Bible, looks at your pictures and says, 'Let's pray together,' you know it's serious," Clark said. "I was like, 'Man, let me pray — you go research!' "

He can joke about it now, but he'll never minimize the dire situation and how it made him appreciate life and the game — and his place in both. Nearly 11 months after he was told he'd never play again, he was back on the field and started for Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XLIII-winning team.

Now, he's back for another run at glory in Super Bowl XLV — even though the only game that matters is the game he somehow won three years ago.

"Every game I play is like the Super Bowl," Clark said. "Every day I live is like the Super Bowl."

You either live or you don't.

And there's no explanation for those told they can't but never give up.

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02-06-2011, 09:56 AM
Ryan Clark is going to be a very influential player in today's game, one way or another.

02-06-2011, 03:28 PM
Posted on Sunday, 02.06.11
http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/02/06/2 ... yalty.html (http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/02/06/2052795/steelers-began-success-with-loyalty.html)
Super Bowl XLV | Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers began success with loyalty

In Pittsburgh, the loyalty shown to players is among the reasons why Ryan Clark stayed with the Steelers and now he has the opportunity to win a second Super Bowl ring.
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Pittsburgh Steelers' Ryan Clark answers questions during media day for NFL football Super Bowl XLV, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.
Pittsburgh Steelers' Ryan Clark answers questions during media day for NFL football Super Bowl XLV, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.
Mark Humphrey / AP Photo

By Jeff Darlington

Arlington -- When Steelers safety Ryan Clark stepped off a plane in Fort Lauderdale last March to visit with the Dolphins after free agency began, he initially thought his career could be headed to a new city and a new team.

“This seems like a good spot,” Clark said at the time. “I’m praying this goes well.”

It didn’t. The vibe wasn’t right. The chemistry wasn’t there. And after a day of an awkward experience that left both sides scratching their heads, Clark called his agent with a very clear message: He wanted to go home.

For months, the situation resonated as a slight against the Dolphins. But what Pittsburgh’s safety has since realized after going through the experience, it might not have been so much about Miami’s organization.

Instead, it might just have been about the Steelers.

“I think just the family aspect of the whole thing, it makes you not want to leave,” Clark said. “It is not a situation where they go out and make the big offseason move and you see the big No. 1 free agent coming to Pittsburgh. What you do see is guys staying.

“You do see them taking care of home first and I think that is a big reason that guys want to be around this organization.”

There are many reasons that can be credited for the Steelers’ success over the last decade, which already includes two Super Bowl titles and possibly a third if Pittsburgh wins Sunday.

Loyal to players

But there’s one element that still gets mentioned more than any other. The loyalty shown toward their players is unmatched, they say. And Clark is a prime example of just that, something he didn’t realize until he went searching elsewhere.

“The biggest thing is we talk about being brothers, we talk about being family and I think we play that way,” Clark said. “If you look at the defensive backs in between every series, we pray together. That’s not about showing people that we have faith. That’s something we do as teammates and as brothers because we know where that strength comes from.”

Three years ago, before Clark had emerged as a solid NFL starter, before he won his first Super Bowl in Pittsburgh, anemia took over his body due to a complication with his sickle cell trait.

He was forced to have his spleen and his gall bladder removed as a result after a trip to Denver’s high altitude for a game against the Broncos triggered the condition. The experience didn’t just cause Clark to be thankful for his health – it also caused him to be thankful for his teammates.

Safety Troy Polamalu became one of Clark’s closest friends, and the chemistry has now translated to the football field.

“Our strength has never been in our talent,” Polamalu said. “It’s always been in our virtues, of our hard work and most importantly our camaraderie, our humility and how we respect the game and respect our opponents.

“That’s something youth can never have. It takes a lot of experience. It takes a lot of chemistry, a lot of life experience to have that.”

The Steelers most certainly do. And Clark’s story is a good example how a roster gains that experience over time.

When it came down to a point when he had to make a decision between staying in Pittsburgh, where his career had taken its shape, or head to another team for more money, he realized what he already had at home.

Right at home

The Dolphins will probably always look back at the snub as a negative against Clark or against the organization. Instead, after months of reflection, it should now be clear what really happened.

Clark’s heart, like so many others that have played for the organization, was still in Pittsburgh. So, too, is his talent. And partly as a result of his contributions, Clark is now preparing to play in his second Super Bowl in three years.

“I got a text after the game last week and it just said, ‘You have a second chance to do something that is a once in a lifetime opportunity,’” Clark said. “It is big for our organization, and I think it just shows that the Rooneys run this organization like it is supposed to be run.”
The Miami Herald

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