Article written by Rico Figlioni and originally found in Peachtree Corners Magazine here.
Autumn Clark, a student at Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC), is a gifted athlete who has worked tenaciously to develop her talents. More than a year ago, she suffered an injury which sidelined her for a while — but not for long. She powered through her rehab and had returned stronger and more determined than ever. Peachtree Corners Magazine (PCM) connected with Autumn to discuss her athletic commitments, her recovery process and what she’s looking forward to in her bright future.
PCM: When did you start having an interest in sports, and specifically volleyball? What drew you to that and when did you realize you had potential?
Autumn: I started Club Volleyball in the spring of my 8th-grade year. I didn’t really know much about the sport besides playing it at summer camps at my school. I knew I always liked the sport, so my friend recommended I try out at a club. I tried out for A5 Pure Volleyball Club and made a team. I knew I had potential then because A5 is the #1 ranked volleyball club in the nation, and if I can make a team at A5, I could be successful anywhere.
PCM: We understand you had an injury last October while playing volleyball. What was it and how have you come out of it?
Autumn: On October 1, 2020, we were playing Mill Creek, in the fourth set of the game. I landed wrong on my left leg and instantly collapsed and passed out. The MRI showed that I tore my ACL, tore both the medial and lateral meniscus, tore my MCL and fractured my tibia. I had surgery done at Resurgence Orthopedics by Dr. Morris, and I currently do physical therapy at Advanced Rehabilitation with Evan. Now in July 2021, I’m able to play volleyball again. In my spring 2021 track season, I began to throw again for track after going to intensive physical therapy three times a week, two hours each session. I was able to place third in State AAA for discus, win my sectionals in track and break a school record, as my coach says, “with one leg.”
PCM: During that time, did you feel like recovery was going to be challenging? How did you work your way through that? How did you encourage yourself?
Autumn: I definitely didn’t fully comprehend the time commitment this injury required. I told my doctor I would be back in three months, but I was definitely wrong. I had to talk to my parents a lot about my struggles and they helped me get through it emotionally. I encouraged myself to stay physically fit and to become better by watching volleyball and track meets on TV. I knew recovery would be challenging — and it still is. The worst part is being told that I can’t do something I used to excel at. I encourage myself to rehab and train every day so I can get back to doing the sports I love at an even higher level.
PCM: When were you finally cleared to compete and play?
Autumn: I was cleared to throw in track with a brace in late February. I got cleared to play volleyball in late July.
PCM: So now you play club and school sports? Which ones?
Autumn: I am on the Varsity Track team at GAC, the Varsity volleyball team at GAC and a club track team, Rockslingers. I also play club volleyball at A5 Pure Volleyball.
PCM: Do you have any particularly favorite memories over the past year or two that you’d like to share?
Autumn: My top three favorite memories where when my physical therapist allowed me to walk for the first time, and I started hobbling around the room singing. Second, I couldn’t walk because I had surgery right before my birthday, so my friends threw me a surprise birthday party; otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to have one. Last, when I was in a wheelchair at school, I learned how to pop a wheelie.
PCM: Your busy day includes club and school sports, weight training and more. When do you have a day off? What do you do? How do you unwind?
Autumn: Every day I usually have about five hours of physical activity. I take a weightlifting class at GAC and weightlift four times a week; when track is in season, I weightlift eight times a week. My days off are typically Friday and Sundays. I use that time to hang out with friends and my family at the lake. I like to unwind by walking my dogs and watching movies.
PCM: How do you handle missing out on activities with friends because of your athletic schedule?
Autumn: I don’t often have to miss hanging out with friends, but when I do, I always try to make up time with them on my days off.
PCM: Volleyball is based on individual athleticism, but also being synced with your teammates. How is discus throwing different for you — and why discus?
Autumn: Discus is very different from volleyball because your stats speak for you, while in volleyball your skill is subjective to the viewers’ eyes. For me, discus is different because all the pressure and performance results lay on my shoulders. I started throwing discus after throwing the football with my dad in the yard. I found a knack for chucking heavy objects a long distance, so my dad recommended me to try throwing in track. I picked it up and never looked back.
PCM: When did you start that? We understand you broke GAC’s school record?
Autumn: I started discus in 8th grade. During my third full season of the sport, I broke GAC’s school discus record, that had stood since 1980, by six feet.
PCM: Now that you’re being recruited by Ivy League schools for track and field, what will you be looking at in making your decision?
Autumn: I am really looking at the academic rigor and social balance available at the schools. I want a school with a school-spirited student body in a city with lots of activity going on around me. I also want to succeed in the classroom while being pushed academically and athletically to allow me to thrive.
PCM: You mentioned that you and your dad (an aerospace engineer who flies for Delta) built your own 3-D printer and a robotic arm. How did that go? What did you end up printing? What did you take away from that experience?
Autumn: My dad and I built a 3D printer in the summer of 2019. With the printer, we were able to print out parts for a robotic robot arm. It worked really well, both the printer and robot arm. From building the printer, I became interested in the art of 3D printing and did some research on bio-printing, which is the printing of human stem cells into human parts, such as ear cartilage, all from a 3D printer. I published a paper on bio-printing in a STEM magazine, Font Femme.
PCM: Academically speaking, do you want to get into Pre-med? What’s your favorite science subject and why? And ultimately, what are your educational and career goals?
Autumn: My goal is to ultimately go Pre-med. I found my love for science in 7th grade when I dissected a frog. I was so mesmerized by the concept of anatomy that I now want to become a surgeon, possibly in cardiac or orthopedic surgery. My current favorite subject is chemistry. I love learning about what elements make up the world we live in and how we interact with them.
PCM: What is the typical “day in the life” of Autumn Clark?
Autumn: On a school day in the spring, I like to get up early and study in the library before school starts. I wake up around 6:45 a.m. and drive to school, which is about 25 minutes away. I study in the library from 7:30 until school starts at 8:30 and I head to class. I had eight classes this past year.
My first class was Honors Pre-Calculus, a class I really enjoyed because of the rigor and critical thinking. Second period was AP Chemistry; it was a very small class, so it was nice to talk in small groups with my classmates. We typically had labs once a week. Third period was Honors Latin. I got to take a break from the complicated English language and learn about Latin origin and history.
Fourth period was AP Language and Composition; in this class, we wrote a ton of essays. Then I’d go to lunch. Three times a week during lunch, I’d go to the athletic trainer at GAC so he could evaluate how my rehab was going for my ACL.
Fifth period was AP US History; it’s a lecture-based class. Sixth period, I had a study hall, where I’d be able to knock out a lot of my homework. Seventh period was weightlifting class. I try to take this class every year to help me get stronger, and because it gives me a break to unwind during the stressful academic day and get out all my angst. My eighth period class was my Christianity Bible class. This class I take every year as a GAC student; it is very informational.
After school, I’d walk up to the parking lot and talk with my friends for a little bit before track practice. Then I’d head to practice, throw for an hour and a half, then go weightlift for an hour with the team. After weights, I’d drive over to physical therapy where I’d work out for about two hours. I’d drive to club volleyball practice, which lasts until 10:30 at night, so I’d get home around 11 p.m.
Then I’d work on homework until about 1 a.m. I never stay up past 1 if I can help it, and if I couldn’t finish my homework by then, I’d wake up early and finish at the library at school. Then I’d shower and go to sleep.
A few quick questions about personal preferences
PCM: What is your favorite mealtime?
Autumn: I like dinner the best, mainly because I’m able to eat with my family and talk with them about their day. I also like how dinner itself is so versatile and there are so many options to cook.
PCM: What is your favorite food(s)?
Autumn: My favorite foods are chocolate cake, chocolate milk, steak and guacamole.
PCM: What’s on your playlist?
Autumn: I listen both Pop and Country. I have a ton of Taylor Swift and Camilla Cabello music, as well as a lot of Brett Eldredge and Jason Aldean.
PCM: I understand you skateboard a little with your friends. Any specific move you wish you could do?
Autumn: I want to pop an Air 360. At the moment, I can only land an Air 270.
PCM: Do you have a favorite book or movie genre?
Autumn: My favorite movie and book series is Harry Potter. I really like the action genre.
PCM: Is there anything else you’d like to share? Any advice for other student athletes?
Autumn: My fun fact is that I’m a certified scuba diver. For advice, one of the quotes I’ll always remember my coach saying is “You can teach skills, but you can’t teach work ethic.” Be the player that everyone knows works hard both in the classroom and on the court/ field. It will pay off in the long run by building up your character for you to succeed in all aspects of life, and it will get you far in whatever career you choose.