2012 Summer Olympic finalist (200 breaststroke)
2010 NCAA Champion (200 breaststroke)
11-time NCAA All-American
2011 Pan American Games silver medalist (200 breaststroke)
Clark Burckle hails from a family of swimming royalty. His father (Christopher Clark Sr.) swam at Louisville and owns three tennis, swimming, and fitness clubs in Burckle’s native Louisville. His mother played college tennis at Indiana and UC-Santa Barbara.
Then there’s Caroline. She is one of the most famed American female swimmers from the first decade of the 200’s. She won Olympic gold at the 2008 Games in the women’s 800 free relay and was a multiple-time NCAA Champion at Florida.
Clark initially followed in the family’s swimming footsteps by swimming for the Lakeside Swim Team, the same team that his dad swam for. He followed his sister’s path to Florida, where he had three very successful seasons under Olympic coach Gregg Troy, earning multiple All-American honors and finaling in the 200 breaststroke and 400 IM at the 2008 Olympic Trials.
The Burckle family has always been each others’ strongest supporters. ‘I didn’t mind being ‘Caroline Burckle’s Little Brother’ because she introduced me to so many great people,’’ Clark said of their relationship. “Without her, I probably wouldn’t have found my way to Florida or even become as good as I did. I saw what success brought her; the privileges, the places to travel. I wanted all of that, too. So in a significant way, she really laid the blueprint vision for my career. I had concrete examples in my life of what hard work and fast swimming could do for you.”
Prior to his senior season, though, Burckle decided it was time to branch off of that journey and transferred for his final season to the University of Arizona.
“I saw an opportunity for a spot in 2012 in the 200 breast and knew that Arizona was the best place for me to develop as an elite athlete,” he explained about his decision. “It was a difficult change because I loved Florida, especially my teammates.”
And then, suddenly, he was no longer “Clark, Caroline Burckle’s younger brother.” First, he became “Clark Burckle, NCAA Champion” after winning the 200 breaststroke in 2010.
“I did have to become my own swimmer at some point,” is how Burckle described the transition. “I feel like I really accomplished this when I went to Arizona. At that point I had no shadow to hide behind; I was ready to discover my own ability in the pool.”
After graduation, he stuck around in Tucson to train as a professional swimmer. In 2011, he became “Clark Burckle, Pan American Games silver medalist.” The next year, shortly before the 2012 Olympic Trials, he started showing unprecedented speed, and it was clear that a special swim was coming. A few months later, he became “Clark Burckle, Olympian” by finishing 2nd in the 200 meter breaststroke at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, and finally “Clark Burckle, Olympic finalist” after finishing 6th at the 2012 London Summer Olympics in the 200 breaststroke.
Now, Clark Burckle had rapidly become a very popular swimmer in his own right, and it all came from stepping out of his comfort zone. He left Louisville, Florida, and the east coast, where he had a comfortable set up and was doing fairly well. He headed for the desert of the west, where he felt that he could thrive. For his risk, he was rewarded with greatness and his name etched in the elite fraternity of American Olympians.
In his own words, Burckle perhaps summed-up the lesson most appropriately: “I made a decision that was difficult because it is never a guarantee that changing programs makes you faster. However, I believed 100% in my decision, and that helped me become a much better athlete.”
There is no rewind button in the real world. The University of Florida has turned out many Olympians, and perhaps Burckle would’ve succeeded there as well. But success in life cannot be hinged on hindsight; rather, it lives in the present and the future. Burckle’s success cannot be separated from the choices that he made, and the key to making the right choices are timing and commitment. Burckle saw an opportunity, went for it with all of his heart, and the result was a seat among the best of his profession in the world.