Standing on the highest step of the podium in Rio on Aug. 19, Caroline "KK" Clark, 26, a U.S. women's water polo team member and Menlo Park native, has come a long way since she played on the junior varsity water polo team at Sacred Heart Preparatory School in Atherton.
Even though KK comes from a family of strong swimmers (her aunt and uncle, Marybeth and Chris Dorst, were Olympians, and her two older sisters, Zizi and Christie, played water polo at UC Santa Barbara), she wasn't always the biggest fan of water polo.
KK Clark (Photo: teamusa.com)
Going to the Olympics, she said, was a goal she nursed in secret but never uttered aloud. "It was such a big, lofty dream," she laughed.
In high school, she honed in on water polo, and joined the swim team to get faster in the water. "Learning to love something that you don't enjoy is a good skill to learn in life, in general," she said.
At Sacred Heart, she played on the junior varsity team her first two years, which helped deepen her love of the sport. "Nowadays there's a lot of pressure on young athletes to be good," she said. What's more important, she said, is learning to love the sport and to compete.
"There are so many paths you can take to get to your goal. ... I'm proud of the path that I took," she said. That path included continuing to compete in college on UCLA's water polo team, where she scored a total of 169 goals.
Her proudest moment at the Olympics, she said, was being on the podium and listening to the national anthem, holding the hands of her teammates as her family watched in the crowd. "You don't know what it feels like until you do it," she said. "Everyone I know and love is here. It feels pretty surreal."
Her advice to the young people of her hometown is this: "Be in the moment," she said.
Growing up in the Bay Area, she said, "It's really easy to go through your day and feel so much pressure and stress. ... The competition is so healthy, and it's great to feel competition with peers in sports and in the classroom," she said. "It takes perspective and mindfulness to keep yourself in check and enjoy everything as you go through it."
When asked what's next, she said: "I'm hanging up the suit. I've dreamed of going out on top. It feels amazing. I feel like there's a new chapter for me to start."
The daughter of Peter Clark and Jane Dorst Clark, she now lives in Hermosa Beach.
In the meantime, though, she's got a celebratory agenda all set for when she comes back to Menlo Park: breakfast at Ann's Coffee Shop, dinner and drinks at the Dutch Goose, and visits to her old coaches and professors at Sacred Heart and the pool she used to swim in at the Menlo Circus Club.
"I love Menlo Park," she said. "I can't wait to get back and bring the gold home to everyone."