Making any national ranking list is an achievement — but forging a national name for yourself as a high school student is something else. And that’s exactly what Glen A. Wilson High School senior track sprinter Nicky Bo Clark has done.
In December 2021, the 17-year-old sprinter from Hacienda Heights, Calif. snagged a new personal record (PR) of 6.99 seconds, ranking No. 7 in the High School Men’s 60m dash with one of the fastest times in the nation.
Now Clark is training under Ernie Gregoire, a retired Olympic Track & Field coach who formerly coached Libyan sprinter Ahmed Amaar and American Sprinter Nakiya Johnson.
“The first practice with [Gregoire] and Olympic qualifiers almost killed me: I lost my vision, but I was determined to stay in the practice because I knew deep down that I could get through it. I really love the self-improvement aspect of running,” Clark said.
Clark started competing in track at 7 years old for the track club “Free Spirit Condors,” formerly known as “Free Spirit.” When he was 13 years old, he became a junior Olympic qualifier in Alabama.
But Clark explained that his younger self didn’t want to travel that far, jokingly saying, “that’s why I’m a qualifier and not a finisher.”
Clark made it abundantly clear that it was the open fields and trees in his elementary school playground that ultimately unlocked his passion for self-improvement in running.
“During recess, we would always run out of the classroom and race to the tree,” he said. “I would never reach the tree first, but as the year went on I began passing more and more people. That’s when the self-improvement aspect of running really started appealing to me.”
He competed in the 4×100 relay at a Covina track meet during his freshman year. With only nine people running on the track, Clark looked like a cardinal-gold blur as he ran his length of the relay. He cited this meet as particularly memorable because his friends and teammates cheered him on wholeheartedly, which had never happened before.
Iconically known for his neon green track spikes, Clark’s high school outdoor season manifested in track meets like the LA Jets Invitational and Desert Dream-Last Hurrah Track & Field Invitational. In his overall high school track career, Clark competed in the 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter, 4×100-meter relay and 4×400-meter relay.
Instead of feeling nervous or trash-talking his opponents before his races, Clark “lays down flat on the track,” allowing his mind to be completely blank before competing.
During indoor season, he went on to compete at the California Winter State Championships and the Santa Monica All Comers track meet, where he ran the PR that made the national ranking list.
Clark’s determination to succeed came from those around him: His dad, track coaches and team each had a profound impact on his high school track career.
To this day, his dad Nicky Clark — a certified USA Track & Field coach and former college football player — inspires him to try creative, unconventional methods to train, for example, racing motorcycles and perhaps most notably, running while pushing his dad’s white truck.
Clark began coaching at 13 years old at his home track club, Free Spirit Condors, for two years. Once he got to high school, he became Varsity Sprints Captain during his junior year and started co-coaching his high school team on technical form.
While coaching those who are still new to sprinting, he often offers simple technical advice.
“Running harder does not make you faster. The best thing you can do while running is to run relaxed,” Clark said. “There are so many technicalities while you run: where your arms are; where your hips are. You have to run with confidence.”
Progressing through his athletic career, Clark faced several obstacles, namely physical injuries. In seventh grade, he dislocated his right knee during a basketball game; the knee injury never healed properly, posing a challenge for Clark when he entered his first high school track season.
Clark also popped his hamstring four times — once during a meet and most recently during his senior year while doing yoga.
“Right now, I’m focusing on getting healthy and hopefully, by the end of this season, I can run in the final meet,” Clark said.
His favorite memory from his high school career includes what he calls his “PR Nachos.”
It was the final league meet during Clark’s freshman year. Despite his high school coach’s protests, he walked to the snack bar and ordered a plate of nachos before his big race.
“My coach told me I was gonna throw up, and I said ‘oh well’ and took a long nap,” he said.
Clark remembers waking up right before his race, no warm-ups, putting on his shoes, stepping on the line and taking off. He not only finished first with a new PR but also “felt great.”
“Those nachos were terrible and soggy,” Clark joked. “But I would absolutely do PR nachos again.”
Clark embraces this “down to try anything” mentality in his hobbies off the track as well. His passion for music, in particular, Chiptune – music made for old video game consoles and computers made in the 80s and 90s – has provided him with an outlet for creative escape.
He even began competing in international competitions for Chiptune, receiving three first-place medals for original compositions.
“When I was a kid, I saw this advertisement for a Sonic game made in the 90s. After I did that, I thought the music was really cool and seemed to have an audience still. I’ve always had a connection to music emotionally,” Clark said.
Reflecting on his high school career, Clark mentions that it is definitely the self-improvement aspect of running that he is passionate about.
“Your competition was not your competition. Your only competition is yourself. Only run against yourself and remember to self-reflect after every race,” Clark said.
Clark’s admiration for this process of self-reflection stems from his STEM classes. In his junior year, his engineering teacher, Mr. Ro, selected him to compete in a national competition called SkillsUSA. Despite no previous experience with competitive engineering, he tied for first place in digital technologies at State.
“Mr. Ro inspires me because engineers self-reflect a lot. His way of self-reflection, called the design process, works well in engineering, but I also use the design process while running to coach myself,” Clark said.
When asked if he would be running in college, Clark replied, “I hope so.” He plans on majoring in Engineering at UC Riverside and running as part of an intramural team.
Regardless of whether he leaves his mark on the vulcanized rubber track or a brick on the engineering room wall, Nicky Bo Clark is constantly bolting to the next opportunity to improve himself.