Olympian inspires Creekside girls

Published 9:32pm Friday, January 10, 2014

It’s not every day a kid hears the secrets of success from an Olympic gold medalist from her hometown. Members of a Creekside Elementary School girls-only club relished the opportunity Friday.

LaTasha Colander Clark, whose career highlights include sharing 4×400-meter track relay gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, visited one of the club’s weekly breakfast meetings.

Olympic gold medalist LaTasha Colander Clark imparts advice and inspiration Friday on members of Creekside Elementary School girls-only club, Girls With Pearls. She told them to follow their dreams and recognize their unique gifts.
Olympic gold medalist LaTasha Colander Clark imparts advice and inspiration Friday on members of Creekside Elementary School girls-only club, Girls With Pearls. She told them to follow their dreams and recognize their unique gifts.

Co-sponsor Stephanie Wilkins said Girls With Pearls (positive, elegant, ambitious, respectful, love, success) provides mentoring and builds leadership skills.

Now with the Salvation Army in Suffolk, Clark’s message was to believe in yourself, recognize your unique gifts, and not let anybody steer you away from your dreams.

“You have true pride in who you are,” she told the girls, after sharing with them a biscuit, fruit and fruit juice breakfast.

“Let your light shine, because you are special. You all have gifts, and you all have talents, whether you recognize it or not. Everything about you is beautiful, and you have to know that you have to carry yourself that way.”

She told the girls to “tap into what makes you shine the brightest.”

Clark drew from her experience at school in Portsmouth. She attended the former Manor High School — now Woodrow Wilson High — with Creekside guidance counselor Robbin Riddick, the girls’ club’s second sponsor.

Responding to a student’s question, Clark said she focused on her running gift to overcome bullying.

“I found my gift,” she said. “I realized I wasn’t going to let anyone take that away from me. You have to keep moving forward.”

Riddick said that at Manor High, Clark was just as kind and encouraging as she was to the Creekside girls Friday.

“I’m extremely proud of her,” she said. “I’m extremely blessed, because she’s such a sweet person.”

Clark also fielded some more interesting questions from students who were still years away from being born when she was winning gold. “Are you a champion, or famous?” asked one. Another asked, “Are you like Gabby Douglas?” — the 2012 Olympics gymnastics gold medalist formerly of Virginia Beach.

Clark told the girls they are the next generation, and no one can stop them once they find their talents and gifts.

Fifth-grader Dashyna Godwin said she would remember the poem Clark read: “Our Deepest Fear,” by Marianne Williamson. “I’ll also remember how she told us that if you are being bullied, just to ignore them,” Godwin said.

“I think it’s going to let me go out and be the dream I want to be,” Angel Wainright said, and from another fifth-grader, Taemya Clark, “When I get older, I can be a leader and follow my dreams.”

Wilkins said third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers select one student each to join the club. The school has a similar club for boys.

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