BY JASON LEVY
In December 2020, Riley Clark had his final chemotherapy treatments for Stage 4 testicular cancer and had surgery to remove all of his abdominal lymph nodes. Once the former Woodland High diver was cancer-free, he was determined to get back on the diving board for the University of Maine.
“I wanted to get away from my sickness physically,” Clark said. “I think, in my head, I just put that as Maine, my sport, my team and my second home. That was the one thing keeping me going honestly.”
As eager as Clark was to dive right in, he had to work his way back, especially after abdominal surgery. Maine men’s diving coach Isaac Forbes described him as a force when he returned.
Philann Dixon, Riley’s best friend and a diver for the Maine women’s team, was right by his side as he worked his way back.
She noted how his coaches and teammates had to make sure he wasn’t overexerting himself.
“He was bound and determined right from the get-go to get back into it, so much so that we as a coaching staff and his teammates felt like we needed to hold him back a little bit, so that he didn’t further injure himself,” Forbes said. “I’ve legitimately never seen anybody with any sort of hardship bounce back and have so much energy, vigor and will to get back to it as I have when Riley came back. He was just so laser-focused on getting his diving career back on track. The efforts he put forth were incredible.”
Clark’s roommate and teammate, Evan Barstow, was surprised Clark was able to be swimming within three weeks of his last surgery, beating his own initial prediction of a month.
“It was absolutely incredible to see him do that,” Barstow said. “He was able to finish out that year, be cleared to compete and compete with us that whole last part of our season and dive in our championship meet. It was incredible. I don’t think I have witnessed anything compared to that. Pure strength, pure ability and commitment to be able to get through that.”
Clark was able to achieve his goal of competing in the America East diving championships in Binghamton, N.Y., on April 17-18, 2021. He placed fifth in the 1-meter dive and sixth in the 3-meter dive. His parents, Michelle and Ken, were watching from home on the AmericaEast TV feed. Ken kept score while Michelle was crying the whole time to see him on the diving board as if nothing had happened.
“Of course, he was still in some pain and had issues with his heels, but I told him he had nothing to lose,” she said. “By getting back on that board, he already won. Even watching him interact with the other athletes, how he would come out of the water, even if it was a bad dive, they would shake his hand and give him high-fives and hugs. It was just so amazing to see him back in his element because that is where he thrives.”
BY JASON LEVY