When junior co-captain Alexandra Clarke returned from this weekend’s Ivy League Championships at Nassau County Aquatic Center, not only did she have four medals around her neck, an Ivy League title to her name, and three NCAA provisional qualifying times, she also held Harvard’s records for four different events.
“She has a lot of guts,” Crimson coach Stephanie Morawski said. “She is a great leader in and out of the pool. She has tremendous dedication and commitment to the sport and her teammates.”
At Ivies this weekend, Clarke proved just how much mettle she has. Swimming in the first individual event of the championship, the 500-yard freestyle, Clarke saw two of her teammates, sophomores Kate Mills and Christine Kaufmann, break the Harvard school record in their heats. With success on her mind, Clarke went on to beat their times while placing second in the final with a time of 4:48.25—less than two seconds behind Princeton rival Alicia Aemisegger.
With her first school record broken, and her first provisional bid to the 2009 NCAA Swimming Championship secured, Clarke went into Friday ready to attack yet again. In her second race, the 1000-yard freestyle, she not only destroyed the Crimson record by six seconds, but she also won the first ever Ivy title for Harvard in this event.
Clarke would later win the first 800-yard freestyle relay title for the Crimson in 21 years with the help of Mills, sophomore Katherine Pickard, and freshman Catherine Zagroba, again breaking the school record.
In her last race of the meet, Clarke would again fall to Aemisegger, placing second in the 1650-yard freestyle. And yet, Clarke would get another NCAA qualifying berth, and for the fourth time, a Crimson record.
Even though Clarke already boasts a prolific career at Harvard that includes the 2008 Sharon Beckman Award for the Most Outstanding Swimmer, beating out Princeton for the first Crimson Ivy title in four years was the icing on the cake. And yet, contrary to what many think, Clarke’s success did not come easily.
After having four knee surgeries and then injuring her shoulder at the end of her sophomore year, Clarke has worked hard with both the Harvard training center and her doctors in Phoenix to get to this day.
“I’ve been injured for the past two seasons so it was nice to finally [win Ivies],” Clark said. “Now I am able to compete and train and everything. It is definitely a big relief.”
Her ability to bounce back, according to her coach and teammates, is what makes Clarke so deserving of fame.
“She just kept going through rehab and staying positive about [her injury],” Morawski said. “There were definitely days when her pain was above the threshold but she kept swimming anyways. It was impressive.”
But despite the comeback kid story and the records she now holds, one of Clarke’s most important characteristics is her ability to lead.
“Aside from the amount of points she contributed…she is a leader in and out of the water as a captain, helping to mentor the younger swimmers, rallying her teammates to win,” Morawski said. “I think that sometimes those things count more than the points in the water.”
“She’s an invaluable member,” Zagroba said. “She is good at making us work together as a team, dealing with conflict—not that there ever is any conflict. She is a good model. She sets a good example by how she swims.”
In three weeks, Clarke will again test her speed at this year’s NCAAs at Texas A&M;, but this time, she won’t have to lead.
“It’s just going to be me and Kate Mills, so it’s going to be a totally different atmosphere,” Clarke said. “I hope I swim better. The last two years I haven’t swam as well at NCAAs than at Ivies, so hopefully this year will be different.”
Even with such success, Clarke knows it can only get better.
“We only graduate [two seniors this year], and we are getting in a really talented class of swimmers,” she said. “Everyone is very excited to get faster and win again next year.”