Now more than ever, the common knowledge surrounding the difficulties student-athletes face in balancing their time and receiving proper compensation is growing. The athletes dedicate a majority of their days to their sport, leaving minimal time for anything else. Sometimes, the trials are enough to make you walk away from a sport that you’ve loved since you were a kid.
Megan Clarke – once a defender on Marist’s water polo team – falls squarely into that “sometimes” category. Despite all of Megan’s success as a player, she knew had to make the decision that was best for her, that being focusing on her schoolwork and her life as a whole.
Though she’s originally from Birmingham, England, Clarke grew up and spent her childhood in Warwick, England. She said that she always wanted to come to America because “water polo for women here is way more respected than it is in England.” As far as Clarke wanting to come to (and play for) Marist, she said that she felt Marist was the best offer she’d seen – and that there was a lovely sweetener to the deal. Clarke explained that “a big dream of hers had been to always live in Italy.” Marist’s Florence campus offered that exact opportunity, an offer Clarke couldn’t refuse.
Spending her freshman year in Florence, Clarke was fortunate enough to start taking classes in psychology, now her major, and in philosophy, her minor. She tackled her core classes there specifically in the interest of focusing on her interests and her athletics once she returned to the Poughkeepsie campus. In the meantime, though, she wouldn’t just skip out on a year of playing. She joined NGM Firenze, an Italian water polo club in Florence. Clarke recalled that she was “terrified” of the atmosphere at her first game; apparently, games in Italy are a bit more aggressive. There’s shouting, swearing, and other elements entirely foreign to Clarke’s playing experience. Playing in England – as well as Sydney, Australia, where she lived for three years – was the exact opposite. The coaches weren’t excluded from her recollection of this jarring change of pace. She described instances in which her “coach threw a plastic chair in the pool.” Sounds familiar… ever heard of Bob Knight?
Due to the fact that Clarke was playing in Italy, her teammates spoke a different language. Clarke, though, had an advantage: French was her first language, and its Latin roots helped her to catch on quickly with the dialect. She was still learning on the fly, though, which made the change a bit tedious. “At first it was really hard, especially in the first few games,” she said. She also said that communication is important because she’s a defensive player. “I need to be shouting at my team… it hindered my game time at first.”
The adjustment would come, though; when you’ve been playing a sport for as long as Clarke, it almost becomes a second language in and of itself. Before she started playing water polo, she was a swimmer and started swimming competitively at the age of seven. When she was 11 or 12 years old, Clarke suffered a knee injury that kept her out of the pool for a year. During her rehabilitation process, she spent time at a program called “Sunday Fun-day” at her school. It was there that she first learned about the basics of water polo, being introduced to the game at a kid’s level, and found great enjoyment in the sport. “I’ve always had a massive love for swimming,” she said. “And it was cool that it was a team sport.” The best of both worlds. She began playing the sport competitively around age 13.
As for playing at Marist, Clarke knew what she was in for. She said when she first started, “it was tough,” realizing the amount of effort she would have to put in, to be where she wanted to be on the team as someone who could contribute. She eventually got super comfortable. During her sophomore season, she played in all 37 games, tallying four points (three goals and an assist) as well as three steals, all as one of the team’s de facto leader’s on the defensive end. Her junior year was when things began to change.
Clarke felt that having to put so much time into both academics and her sport was exhausting, especially since she is trying to get into grad school after her senior year. “It was super taxing mentally in the end,” she said. This was Clarke’s first time not being on a sports team since the age of four, although she said that the transition from being an athlete to not being a part of a sports team “was a lot smoother and a lot easier than I thought.”
The game will always be a part of her, though. Especially with all of her added experience in the pool. Not only did she play in Italy and for Marist, but, naturally, in England. Clarke started training in the England Talent Program at the age of 16, her ultimate goal being to make the national team. Which she did. She called her proudest moment in the sport the moment when the national team coach called her to tell her she’d be “coming with [them]” that year. During the summer of 2017, she played in the EU Nations Tournament, where she won a gold medal. She also played in the World University Games in Taiwan, a three-week tournament in which she’d play some of the top talents in the world in teams like Hungary.
For someone just 23 years old, Clarke is quite fortunate to have had such impactful experiences with a sport. And it’s clear that leaving water polo behind was no easy decision. It’s just that sometimes, she explained, we have to sacrifice the things we love the most in order to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
Edited by Will Bjarnar