Clemson finds joy of coaching

Christen Clemson’s outgoing personality is the first thing you notice about the former Maplewood High School and Penn State University standout.

She’s quick to strike up a conversation, almost like talking to an old friend.

That’s just the way she is. And that’s why the former two-time Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III state champion in the discus knows how to motivate.

The 2002 Maplewood High School graduate has used her personable nature to spin her way into the coaching realm. The accomplished athlete is trying to replicate her textbook footwork in the throwing circle in others.

Yet, coaching wasn’t the path she thought she was destined to follow.

A couple of years ago, the powerful words of former Penn State wrestler Rohan Murphy spoke loud and clear to Clemson. You see, Murphy is a motivational speaker. He lost his legs at birth. Many people thought he’d always be confined to wheelchair, destined to sit on the sidelines. Then, wrestling became his lifeblood. He benched around 300 pounds and, as a lightweight wrestler, became a dominating force on the mat. He inspired those around him.

Including Clemson.

The night Clemson heard Murphy speak, she realized there was Penn State Ability Athletics on campus. Not surprisingly, Murphy is a paralympic power lifter – one of the U.S.’s best representatives.

Clemson realized her abilities in the throwing circle could be morphed into mentoring.

She quickly met Teri Jordan, Disability Recreation Programs Coordinator at Penn State, who runs the Ability Athletics program on campus.

“Whenever she needs me, I’m at their beck and call,” said Clemson, who last competed in 2009.

She volunteered her time while earning her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at Penn State.

Clemson worked with a former Navy medic, who lost his legs while serving our country overseas.

Her tasks differ from teaching athletes to circumvent their upper body into a whirlwind effect that equates a quality discus throw, or power through the shot put – both from a sitting position. Some have a prosthesis, and are able to stand while competing.

She loves the attitude each of these veterans or other paralympic athletes have.

“It’s not, ‘Oh poor me.’ It’s, ‘We’re just as good as you are and we can make this thing work,’ ” Clemson said. “As a two-legged athlete, there are questions I have to ask. This is how I do it. This is the mechanics of it. How do we make this happen when you don’t have a right foot? How do we deal with turning your knee and turning your hip?

“It’s really a kind of dialogue and a learning process trying to take it as an able-bodied person. They’ll figure out the logistics of it once I demonstrate it.”

Clemson’s mentoring skills go beyond the Penn State campus. In fact, she took a 40-minute drive northeast of the Nittany Lion haven to be a volunteer throws coach at Central Mountain High School. One of her top throwers, Tyler Cryder, was one step away from the Pennsylvania State Track and Field Meet. Unlike Ohio where the top four in each regional advance to state, our neighboring state takes the winner from each district event and places them at state.

Cryder led the discus through the first five throws. Then, Hollidaysburg’s Matthew Barton won on his final attempt.

“I ended up in tears after the meet because he worked so hard and it was amazing to watch and to know I was a part of that,” Clemson said.

She’s not only been motivating others, but herself as well.

Clemson hopes, after she graduates in the spring or summer with her degree to become a professor at a university or college. There, she might resume her competitive throwing.

“Coaching has brought back the drive to compete a little bit again,” she said. “I’ve kept in shape. I’ve kept lifting – working with kids, working on footwork.

“If I don’t get to throw again, I’d really like to coach.”

Whichever way Clemson turns in the near future, she’s bound to land on those two feet that have brought her and countless others success.

“To me, this is a way for me to give back. Share the talents and share the skills you have. It’s the sharing part that’s valuable. It doesn’t do any good if you keep it,” Clemson said.