Southwestern’s Justin Clarke is running for a higher cause at the University of Michigan

February 26, 2011

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — Running is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “to go by moving the legs faster than in walking.”

It also describes a runner as “one who, or that which, runs,” but University of Michigan freshman Justin Clarke of Flint simply deciphers his ability as something based on the assignment of a higher being.

“When people see me run, it’s not just the work of the body but it’s the work of God,” Clarke explained.

This may be true, but it also took long hours of hard labor, dedication, and a tremendous grind for Clarke to become one of the fastest sprinters of his class in the Big Ten Conference.

On Jan. 22, Clarke finished the 60-meter dash indoors with a time of 6.83 at the Simmons-Harvey Invitational. That mark ranks as the team’s best effort in that category for the young 2011 season. That same day, he also posted a 22.46 in the 200-meter Dash, which is the Wolverines’ third-best time in that department this year.
Clarke has twice been named as the “Wolverine of the Week,” and the folks in Ann Arbor believe they may have something special on their hands.

“For freshmen in general the expectations usually aren’t that high no matter what level guys are at but he’s kind of stepped in and was very serious,” UM track and field head coach Fred LaPlante. “He’s worked very consistently, he’s worked hard and stayed focused and been open-minded with listening, so he’s about as good as it gets for his freshman year.”

In Clarke’s transition from Southwestern Academy to the UM, he didn’t really know what to expect. In fact, he tried to stay as far away from the university as possible since most of his older siblings had already attended UM at some point.

“I was trying to avoid Michigan, I was actually fighting it and I didn’t apply until like the last day,” Clarke said.

In the end he figured it would be the perfect fit. He couldn’t pass up the chance of being so close to home, continuing the great family tradition they’d built at the school, and having the chance to learn the ropes from his big sister. Brianna Clarke is a senior at UM.

“One of the ways I’ve helped him transition was to get him involved in a program called ‘Leaders And Best’ which also pairs him up with a upperclassmen that actually is going in the same field that he’s going into,” said his sister Brianna.

“I (also) usually help him in his studying skills because some of the courses are a lot of the prerequisites that I took, and (I try to) link him with different faculty members that I’ve made relationships with to make sure he gets the best teachers for each class.”

“Every weekend we try to get together and have dinner and spend time,” Justin added.

This relaxation off the track seems to be paying off considerably when it’s time for Justin to compete. He also qualified for the finals of the Notre Dame Meyo Invitational on Friday, Feb. 4 by running a 6.87 in the 60-meter dash preliminaries, finishing in 10th place even though the event was non-scoring.

The frosh will have a chance to put his skills on display again this weekend when the Wolverines travel to the University of Illinois for the Big Ten Indoor Championships. Michigan has won the event 26 times and Clarke hopes he can be a factor in another Wolverine victory.

Clarke’s humility is what makes him come off as an “old-soul.” He seems to have been here before and his musical tastes reflect this since he finds pleasure in rocking to legends like The Temptations, Al Green, and Luther Vandross in his spare time.

The former Saginaw Valley Scholar Athlete of the Year should come up big this weekend since he’s never been the one to fold under the bright lights.

“He’s run his best against the best so he’s got some good guys he’ll be facing this weekend and hopefully he can keep his focus and give it his best shot and we’ll see how it goes,” LaPlante said.

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