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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Clark’s resolve inspired us all

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For many years it has been my distinct pleasure to offer those of you who regularly read the only newspaper in the state with a social conscience my varying observations about any and everything we classify as the sporting world around us.

Today l will ask you to indulge me and allow some thoughts about something far greater than the usual banter that hovers from the relevant to outrageous in terms of what l attempt to discuss with you regularly. 

Nearly twenty years ago as l was working a free-lance assignment in Bloomington, Indiana, for a sports television network covering a Indiana University football game, l had the good fortune of meeting Marty Clark who at the time was the equipment manager for the program. Everything that happened after that could be classified as something between a Hallmark moment and a comedy movie, as we quickly hit it off and began a friendship that endured both the geographical distance and our contrasting lifestyles. The match was something just short of the odd couple with he being a respected member of the football staff at I.U. with a wife and children, and yours truly a court jester with an appetite for song and dance and anything else unstructured.

Despite our differences we quickly found a commonality existed with our family backgrounds being rooted in North Carolina, he from Waynesville and yours truly having kinfolk in the thriving metropolis of Shelby where one could get a great price on a superb fried perch dinner in addition to an alleged accurate analysis of both Nascar and North Carolina University Basketball at no extra charge. 

Over time we spent hours together experiencing the sanctity of great conversation and all the nutrients contained within a cold, long neck bottle of beer as the good times rolled on. He would elevate to the ranks of Assistant Athletic Director and assume the daunting task of licensing and apparel for the football program, dealing directly with Adidas in terms of every aspect of how the student athletes would appear in their apparel, both on and off the field.

While those job responsibilities were vast, he never lost his focus on family, football and his faith. 

After all, college athletics at a Big Ten Conference school is a major undertaking and Indiana University had the right man at the helm. He was as loyal to Big Red as anyone and gained the respect of all those around him, especially the Head Football Coaches he worked diligently alongside of, dedicating himself to the countless hours the job title demanded every single day.

We also shared a passion for IndyCar racing, and he was a constant figure at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where we enjoyed the racing, a tenderloin sandwich and, of course, a cold beverage or two.

Life was good for Brother Clark, and he knew just how fortunate he was to have so many great things going on simultaneously.

In November of 2021 after experiencing some excruciating headaches, he was diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma brain cancer and sadly given a grim prognosis from his doctors. 

Faced with clearly the greatest challenge of his life, Marty then dismissed their projections pertaining to his life expectancy and surpassed all the opinions of the fine oncology professionals that cared for him and began to spit in the face of his cancer.

Surrounded by his family and closest friends, he succumbed to the heinous disease this past week with his dignity fully intact at home, exactly where he chose to be with his wife and daughters working in concert with Hospice professionals to comfort him.

Rather than go out quietly, Marty lived the remainder of his life with the determination and zest that he had historically demonstrated, visiting his beloved relatives in North Carolina, attending I.U. sporting events and watching his beloved daughter graduate from the same institution that he faithfully served for many years.

Out of all our shenanigans, l do believe my arranging a personal visit with his favorite race driver was the top of the mountain called friendship, as the look on his face when he met A.J. Foyt Jr in his race team garages at IMS was beyond a Kodak moment.

Meeting his hero was so special to him, and he always cherished that day in a manner l can’t begin to describe. It was beyond priceless and quite sobering to see my friend literally moved to tears of joy and riding the wave of euphoria that accompanied it.

Style, grace and dignity were just a few of the lessons that Marty Clark bestowed upon us as he stood his ground and then some against cancer, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for showing us how to deal with adversity during our time on earth. Rest easy my friend and while the physical pain you battled is gone, the resolve you showed will always be present.

Danny Bridges, who mixed a smile with his tears while writing this, can be reached at (317) 370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com 

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