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Q & A: The Strong Comeback of Autumn Clark (article)

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Photos by George Hunter.

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.

Autumn Clark PTC Life Podcast

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Sports

A Record-Breaking Year for Wesleyan Athletics

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Wesleyan is known for its faith-based academic excellence, but maybe you didn’t know that the school’s athletic prowess is just as impressive.
Girls Cross Country // Images courtesy of Wesleyan

Wesleyan School is known for its faith-based academic excellence, but maybe you didn’t know that the school’s athletic achievements are just as impressive. This year alone, Wesleyan has amassed an astounding nine state championships.

“The Wesleyan School athletic program has been incredibly blessed to enjoy a significant amount of success during the 2023-2024 school year. Winning nine state championships is a credit to our student-athletes, coaches, and parents,” said Chris Cleveland, head of school and assistant coach for the varsity boys basketball team.

Nine state championship titles are the most Wesleyan has ever won in a single school year. But the school’s athletic department is focused on far more besides winning. 

“While winning a state championship is a substantial accomplishment that is worthy of celebration, it is not the sole measure by which we measure the success of a season. It is our greatest desire and prayer that the lives of our students will be transformed due to the investment by our coaches and through the relationships they build with their teammates,” added Cleveland. 

After the girls and boys lacrosse teams won their state titles earlier this year, Wesleyan now has a state championship in every sport they field.

“We are so proud of our student-athletes, coaches, and our entire athletics program. Regardless of the number of state championships in a given year, our goal is to develop young men and young women of character. When recognition like state titles accompanies that objective, it certainly is a lot of fun and a great honor for our entire community,” commented Lacy Gilbert, director of athletics.

Congratulations to all Wesleyan student-athletes, coaches and faculty for this incredible accomplishment.

List of team titles:

  • Girls Softball
  • Girls Cross Country
  • Boys Swim & Dive
  • Girls Swim & Dive
  • Girls Lacrosse
  • Boys Lacrosse
  • Girls Tennis
  • Girls Track & Field
  • Boys Golf

List of individual titles:

  • Weezie Moore – Girls Cross Country
  • Abbey Suits – Dive
  • Hattie Wasmuth – Swim: 200 Medley
  • Max Perry – Swim: 50 Free
  • Ryan Cowart, Jace Neeb, JJ Neeb and Max Perry – Swim: 200 Free Relay
  • Ansley Chapman, MC Harrison, Vivian Hosier and Hattie Wasmuth – Swim: 200 free relay
  • Ryan Cowart, JJ Neeb, Max Perry and Connor Worgo – Swim: 400 free relay
  • Ansley Chapman, Lily Corbitt, Vivian Hosier and Hattie Wasmuth – Swim: 400 free relay
  • Weezie Moore – Track & Field: 3,200 meters
  • Kyra Brubaker, Ansley Voss, Eva Murphy and Julie Anne Bush – Track & Field: 4 x 800-meter relay
  • Anne McSweeney – Track & Field: 800 meters
  • Ben Vondrak – Track & Field: Wheelchair 800 meters and 200 meters

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The ALTA Foundation Announces the 2024 L. Keith Wood Scholarship Award Winners

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Congratulations to the eight well-deserving recipients who will receive this year’s L. Keith Wood Scholarship award winners scholarship. ALTA Foundation committee members reviewed numerous applications from exceptionally talented, intelligent and community focused students to make their decisions.

To qualify for this award, candidates must have engaged in either the ALTA Junior League, participated in the Junior Challenge Ladder, or been involved in the Foundation’s START program. They had to have shown a dedication to community and volunteer service along with being able to display how tennis has assisted with their growth, both on and off the court.

Each awardee will be granted a $2,500 scholarship to support their educational endeavors and will be honored on center court during ALTA Day on July 22 at the Atlanta Open.

Here are the winners:

Isabelle Coursey – Atlanta, GA
ALTA Facility: Dekalb Tennis Center
Graduate of: Chamblee High School
Attending: Georgia Tech

Riley Hamrick – Peachtree Corners, GA
ALTA Facility: Peachtree Station Swim and Tennis
Graduate of: Norcross High School
Attending: University of Georgia

Athena Misewicz – Dunwoody, GA
ALTA Facility: Dunwoody Country Club
Graduate of: Dunwoody High Schoolz
Attending: University of Georgia

Prisha Mody – Johns Creek, GA
ALTA Facility: Peachtree Station
Graduate of: Johns Creek High School
Attending: University of Georgia

Mara Opre – Suwanee, GA
ALTA Facility: Sharon Springs Park
Graduate of: Lambert High School
Attending: Anderson University

Ben Stone – Suwanee, GA
ALTA Facility: Mayfair/ St. Clair
Graduate of: Lambert High School
Attending: University of Alabama

Ally Turnbough – Snellville, GA
ALTA Facility: Briscoe Park
Graduate of: Greater Atlanta Christian School
Attending: Clark Atlanta University

Davis Wall – Duluth, GA
ALTA Facility: Canterbury Woods
Graduate of: Peachtree Ridge High School
Attending: University of Georgia

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Peachtree Corners Gets Pole Position in Speed Week 2024

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The 2024 Curiosity Lab Criterium will take place on a course in the world-famous Curiosity Lab in Peachtree Corners.
Criterium Race in 2023

The first Curiosity Lab Criterium took place last year on a cold, rainy day, but the weather didn’t dampen enthusiasm for the event.

The collection of Speed Week criteriums in Georgia and South Carolina kicks off Thursday, April 25, in Greenville, SC, and wraps up on Sunday, May 5, in College Park, GA.

Peachtree Corners has added many new components this year, including a Sunday time slot.

“It was a good opportunity for us to get a feel for it,” said Louis Svehla, the city’s communications director. “[We got to see] how it would work in the setup and stuff like that.”

This year’s event will also feature a running race, races for kids, food trucks, vendors and other activities for the family.

Speed Week is a premiere event on the U.S. Pro Cycling Circuit that draws cyclists worldwide, including Olympic medalists and world and national champions.  In 2023, the professional men’s and women’s events drew cyclists from over 30 states and more than 20 countries.

Criterium Race in 2023

Gearing up for race day

The 2024 Curiosity Lab Criterium will take place on a course in the world-famous Curiosity Lab in Peachtree Corners, a 5G-enabled, 500-acre living laboratory ecosystem designed specifically as a proving ground for IoT, mobility and smart city technologies.

The Curiosity Lab Criterium will feature an array of innovative technologies currently being deployed to help protect vulnerable road users (VRUs). This event will also showcase the VRU technology of tomorrow as exhibited by private sector V2X companies and sensor innovators, OEMs hardware and software manufacturers, government officials, bike companies, advocacy groups and more.

“Despite it being a dreary day in the middle of the week last year, the public showed up and had a good time,” Svehla said.

“We always want people to gather and hang out with each other, especially when these events are free and really for them,” he added.

“For our first one, we were very happy with the turnout. … The vendors and the food trucks we hired for the event made their minimums, so they didn’t cost the city any money,” he explained.

Criterium Race in 2023

Even better than last year

Event producers, sponsors and race teams also gave great feedback.

“They were ecstatic about this course. They absolutely loved it because it’s unlike any other course they have on this circuit,” he said. “They love that there were elevation changes and … it was in a different type setting, not just on a city street like others.”

The success of that first year prompted the promoters to move this year’s race to a Sunday, a weekend race. It’s the day after the Athens race and the second one in Georgia.

“It’s not really far distance,” Svehla added. “And because of that, we expect to have more professional riders, both in the men’s and women’s professional divisions. And we’re hoping that also boosts the amount of … third tier riders that are amateurs but want to compete.”

“Last year’s races started at 3 p.m., and I think the last race went off at 9 p.m.,” he said. “This year, we are starting at 10 in the morning.”

The last race starts at 8 p.m. and lasts about an hour. In between, there are several junior categories for kids from 9 to 14 years old, a 130-yard race for little kids ages 5 to 9, a foot race and many family-friendly activities.

“Although the bike races are open to whoever registers, the running races are invitational only,” Svehla said.

“They’re inviting some of the best runners from the Southeast,” he said. These people are going to run a sub-six-minute mile, minimum.”

3-D printed trophy

Taking home the gold

Last year’s custom 3-D printed trophies for the professional men and women competitors will be replicated in smaller trophies and medals for the amateur racers.

The design is the same as last year, but the spokes on the wheel are gold. Local company ZhumeisterLabs (ZLabs3D) will be making the trophies.

In addition to being a fun, family-focused event, Curiosity Lab Criterium is also a chance to showcase the best of Peachtree Corners.

“[This] allows us to showcase Curiosity Lab, its different technologies and what being an IT city means,” said Svehla.

“We also want to be a leader in working with companies to provide solutions that make being on the road or next to the roadway as safe as possible. This, hopefully, will encourage more cycling, walking, running and multi-use trails.”

Curiosity Lab Criterium 2024

What: U.S. Pro Cycling Circuit Race and Running Race 
When: Sunday, April 28
Time: 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners City Hall (310 Technology Pkwy)
Learn more about the event at peachtreecornersga.gov/385/Curiosity-Lab-Criterium-2024.

Speed Week Events
April 25 through May 5

Greenville Cycling Classic
Greenville, SC
Thursday, April 25

Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System Criterium
Spartanburg, SC
Saturday, April 27

Athens Orthopedic Clinic Twilight Criterium p/b Michelob Ultra
Athens, GA
Sunday, April 28

Curiosity Lab Criterium
Peachtree Corners, GA
Tuesday, April 30

Spin the District – Union City criterium
Union City, GA
Wednesday, May 1 (non-speed week event)

Bonus! Track racing @ Dick Lane Velodrome
East Point, GA
Friday, May 3

Spin the District – Hapeville Criterium
Hapeville, GA
Saturday, May 4

Lagrange Cycling Classic
Lagrange, GA
Sunday, May 5

Speed Week Finals – Spin the District – College Park Criterium
College Park, GA
Sunday, May 5

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