Clark's courage doesn't go unnoticed

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By Teresa Varley
Steelers.com

There are times when you see someone succeed and you just can't help but feel happy for them.

In the football world it can be someone who fought back from an injury or illness, overcoming the biggest odds out there to get back on the field. It could be a player who does incredible things in the community and you want him to do well in games. Or it could be a player who has earned your respect because he is committed to his family and faith.

Or it could be all of the above. And in that case, it would be safety Ryan Clark.

Some might have written him off mid-way through the 2007 season when he suffered an inflamed spleen following the Steelers-Broncos game in Denver, the result of a pre-existing blood condition where the high mountain altitude combined with dehydration caused the inflammation.

The normally upbeat, fun-loving Clark was a far cry from what everyone was used to. He would walk through the hallways at the team's practice facility looking thin and withdrawn. He was quiet, losing weight and lacked the energy that he always had.

"Some days I didn't know if I was going to make it," said Clark. "I would be down about it, just thinking how hard it would be to come back and how hard I worked to get into that shape for the season. What it took six or seven months to gain I lost in two weeks.

"It's amazing. It lets you know it's out of your hands. It's up to God. What's going to be is going to be. It's a long way to go. To be able to get up in the morning and eat, and run around with the kids, it's a blessing. I'm doing well."

He was placed on injured reserve after he had surgery to remove the spleen, and that was followed weeks later by surgery to remove his gallbladder.

The physical effects were tough on Clark, but it was more than just that. The emotional effects were just as trying and wore on him as time went on.

"The emotion comes a long way after," said Clark, who has the sickle cell gene. "Before the surgery I never thought it was over because the doctor kept telling me it wasn't. Once I had the surgery I knew I was done for the year, but the doctors were optimistic telling me I would be back."

And he is, in a big way. This is a guy you can never count out. He is a fighter. He worked hard all offseason and on opening day of the 2008 season he was back at his starting free safety spot.

"I was excited. I was anxious to get out there," said Clark of returning to the field. "It's more a testament to how great God has been to me and my family. I just wanted to go out there and have a good time and show I am appreciative through my play."

And his teammates are appreciative of what he has overcome as they voted him the Steelers 2008 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, presented to a player who has overcome an injury or major challenge in life.

Clark is honored to be the recipient, although he wishes he never had to go through what he did to win it.

"You want your teammates to look at you as courageous," said Clark. "I could have done it without having to go through what it took to win it. I am appreciative of it because it did mean you came back. I think that is the biggest part about it. You are back on the team. You are doing well. You overcame the problems. It is pretty cool."

Clark will be honored at the Art Rooney Sr. Courage House Luncheon on Tuesday, Nov. 11 at Heinz Field. For tickets or more information call 412-766-9020 ext. 219.

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