By Jason Koop,
Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning
We lost a great one late last week. Ultrarunner, author, and heavy metal Zen monk sober warrior David Clark passed away May 21st after complications from surgery to repair a herniated disc. If you are not familiar with David’s story, you should be. A former 320-pound drug, alcohol and fast food addict, David turned his life around through running, nutrition, sobriety, Buddhism and an insatiable desire to help others. As an ultrarunner, David made the rounds with finishes in races like the Badwater 135, Rocky Raccoon 100, Javelina Jundred and 6 trips across the Leadville Trail 100 course, which was hands down his favorite.
I came to know David as a friend in the ultrarunning scene. Our mutual friendship flourished as I coached him on and off for several years. Finally, we became true partners in crime as we honed each other’s various crafts. We would discuss writing, coaching, running and were frequent guest on one another’s podcasts. All the while, we schemed on how we would take over the world in each venue. We shared a mutual love for endurance sports, mixed martial arts, ice hockey and football. Although the latter would come to a head when my Dallas Cowboys would play his New York Giants in a division rivalry.
David also had a coaching business where he worked with recovering addicts, alcoholics and anyone needing a complete lifestyle transformation. He used a combination of running, nutritional education and meditation as part of his rehabilitation toolkit to remold a person’s body, mind and spirit. The initial part of this total makeover style process involved a home visit where he would end up utterly upending a person’s kitchen. He’d go in like a Zen Buddha drill sergeant and have athletes throw out all of their old, moldy and rotten food, complete with the unrecognizable iceberg lettuce and four-year-old pancake mix. He would then have the willing subject deep clean their kitchen and refrigerator as a cathartic purge and a way to start anew.
After these initial food, lifestyle and training makeovers, his athletes would show up to races like the Moab half marathon or the Leadville Heavy Half to capstone the first part of their health transformations. With their team uniforms featuring David’s trademark New York black, they were easy to pick out. They were also the happiest of the bunch at any race. It was clear that the races to them meant more than a finisher’s medal or the end of some 20-week training program. The races were symbolic of the first steps on the path those athletes would be on for the rest of their lives. Like their newfound lives, the race would be filled with triumph, hardship, patience and mutual accountability. All of which would serve as blueprints for success for years to come, whether in other races, their own lives or in service to others.
As time wore on, I followed David’s coaching journey more intently than I did his athletic one. I learned a tremendous amount from him and what I saw his athletes accomplish. While I was coaching people for PR’s and big belt buckles, David was coaching people so they could save their own lives. He had a greater impact on me than I can every repay or express in words. But just because I think I can’t doesn’t mean I’m not going to take the first step and try. Because that’s something I learned from him as well, you don’t know until you try.
Moderation is bullsh!t
David was the least moderate person I knew, in every way imaginable for everything imaginable. And even in his post-junk food and post-alcohol filled life, moderation was a switch he could ever find the dimmer for. A vegan ultrarunner who was once a 320-pound glutton knows nothing of the meaning of moderation. He would always tell me, “You don’t get to be 320 pounds and drinking a liter of whiskey before 10 AM through moderation”. But David’s immoderation was on all levels, well beyond food and running. And, rather than attempt to fight and quell that demon, he took opportunity to revel it.
David leveraged this innate trait in the service of others. He loved others without moderation, took care of his athletes relentlessly, and without hesitation would provide council to anyone suffering from addiction, alcoholism or depression. Over the years, I connected him with dozens of friends, friends of friends and acquaintances with several degrees of separation; anyone in need of guidance of how to get their rock-bottom lives back in order. He didn’t care how I knew them, what their situation was nor their stature in life. All he knew was to love, care and help without reluctance or a governor on the process. He did this with countless individuals, too numerous to tally.
Ultrarunning is an immoderate lifestyle. The training and races are too hard to find any sense of balance or equilibrium with the process. Like David, we should not fight, but rather leverage this immoderation for the betterment of our ultrarunning lives and the lives of those around us. We have all proven we have the tools go farther and do more through the training and racing. It’s up to us to decide whether to confine that trait to the toolbelt of running, training and racing; or to leverage it further for the betterment of all.
‘We are Superman’
David’s moniker was ‘We are Superman’. He plastered it all over his podcast, website and clothing. At first glance, it’s a superhero personification that’s all too easy to turn into a cliché: ‘If we put a preverbal ‘S’ on our collective chests we can do anything’, or something like that. But he didn’t want you to be peripherally inspired by notion of a single person with x-ray vision and the ability to leap over buildings in a single bound. David’s meaning behind ‘We are Superman’ had greater depth and more layers than that, something you would have to contemplate for a while to fully grasp, much like David himself.
On his home planet of Krypton, Superman was just a normal bloke. He was decidedly average when he was among his own kind. On a planet far away from ours, he was nothing remarkable, and certainly nothing super to aspire to. But when he changed worlds and became a citizen of our planet, his powers became super indeed.
For David, sobriety was nothing short of a planetary change; a new environment that transformed his strengths. Through sobriety, he became every bit the superhero who’s moniker he adopted. The key was, his entire world had to change not just have a fresh coat of paint. When David sobered up, his friends, lifestyle and even his bank account were all abandoned for the life he had found on his new planet. And although he would never say it, it was a world where he could play the role of superhero in service to others.
‘We are Superman’ is David’s lasting call to the world. Its message is a reflection of David’s personal journey as well as his optimism for the present-day. He believed the collective present (‘We are’) has the power to be super-heroic (‘Superman’). But, like Superman and David’s journey alike, we have to be willing to change our entire world in order to do so.
Few have the courage for universal change, even when at rock bottom or even when their hand is seemingly forced. David’s hope was that knowing ‘We are Superman’ would help people find the courage to change, even against the odds and with seemingly insurmountable repercussions. “Don’t be afraid to change. You might just like what you find”.
I miss you to pieces, David. I miss everything you did and all that you stood for. Although your life was cut far too short, your impact will not suffer a similar fate. You lived a life of selflessness and gave me and countless others a blueprint to be our own version of Superman. May we honor that within our own existences, our service to others and the impact we have on the world.
I will see you on the other side of Hope Pass, my brother!
David leaves behind 3 children, the love of his life, Courtney, and a legacy of service and inspiration. He was the author of three books, including the recent “Eat Sh!t and Die”, which was released 11 days before his death. His friends have set up a GoFundMe page to assist with remaining medical expenses.