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Coming up Clark

Although there was a time when Alabama gymnast Kaitlyn Clark didn’t know The University of Alabama had a gymnastics team, she's now found her home on the team. CW | Pete Pajor

Kayla Montgomery

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There was a time when Alabama senior gymnast Kaitlyn Clark didn’t know The University of Alabama had a gymnastics team.

Now, the Rancho Cucamonga, California, native has found her home as a senior on the Alabama gymnastics team and was named this week’s SEC Gymnast of the Week after winning the all-around competition in last week’s meet at The University of Georgia with a career best score of 39.625.

“I really always wanted to go to UCLA when I was little because those were the meets I always went to, and my dad was a huge Oklahoma fan, so I knew maybe Oklahoma would be a good option too because I had family there too,” Clark said. “But Dana saw me at a meet. Everyone was looking at my teammate, and Dana was like, ‘I want her. She’s the one I want.’ That’s how I found out about Alabama gymnastics.”

Duckworth said it was Clark’s confidence and athleticism that caught her eye in what was her first recruiting trip as an assistant coach. She pursued the young athlete, who was ultimately sold on the University after a recruiting trip to Tuscaloosa.

“All the other people were watching this teammate of hers, and I was watching the teammate, but I was like, ‘Who is that? Who is that kid?’” Duckworth said of Clark. “It makes me proud that she fell in love with The University of Alabama the same way I did, and that she’s had such a 
successful career.”

Clark was always been focused on the collegiate track of gymnastics rather than the Olympic route, but still competed with the national team. After competing for the national team, Clark continued gymnastics at Level 10, making what she said was the best decision for the health of her body, before coming to the University. The most important thing she said she learned in her first practices with the Crimson Tide was the importance of a team in a sport that had always been individually-based.

“Coming in here as a freshman, I was like, ‘I want to win a national title by myself. And I want to do this and be an All-American and a Scholastic All-American,’” she said. “That was my mindset coming into the fall and it quickly changed to the team atmosphere. I love the team atmosphere and thinking about competing just for myself is not enough anymore. I’m really glad that I got the opportunity to switch my mindset into the team atmosphere.”

In her career with Alabama, Clark has been a three-time Scholastic All-American. In her sophomore year, she was the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional co-champion on the uneven bars and during her junior year she posted a perfect 10.0 on the balance beam, the first for the Crimson Tide since 2003. She has become known for her celebrations after her performances, something Duckworth said inspires the whole team.

“When she stands there and she holds that position and you see her smiling, it’s just passion and joy combined in excellence and I love that,” Duckworth said. “Matter of fact, I’ve got to find some other athletes to do that when she’s gone because it makes a difference.”

Clark will graduate from the University in August and she plans to return home to California to study to be a physical therapist. She’s currently interning with a physical therapist in Tuscaloosa and said she found her love for the profession after taking a biomechanics class. She said she hopes that love will help her transition to life after gymnastics.

“My whole life really has been this sport,” she said. “It’s something that I’ve dedicated myself too and was super passionate about. I think one of my goals while I was here was to find something else I was super passionate about that I could move on to after gymnastics and dive into that. I think being a physical therapist is what I’m most passionate about, so hopefully I can spend all my time and effort in that and make the transition easily.”

Clark and the No. 5 Alabama gymnastics team will return to Coleman Coliseum this Friday at 7:30 to take on No. 2 LSU.

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