Colin Clark – Kona Braveheart
Friends, family and a small community group gathered at Kailua Pier on Sunday to honor and celebrate Colin Clark’s remarkable journey.
It was supposed to be a surprise for Clark, who had planned an occasional swim to the half-mile buoy with his wife Natascha and triathlon coach David Wild, before catching a flight back to Los Angeles. Monday for brain surgery. From the look on Clark’s face, it certainly was.
The 58-year-old Kona resident was immediately draped in leis, good wishes and tears of happiness.
“It’s a bit of a surprise to me that we’re all here together,” Clark’s voice trailed off to hold back tears. “Seeing everyone here makes me so happy.”
For those unfamiliar with Clark’s story, you will find her to be truly remarkable and inspiring in every way. 18 months ago, after completing the Triptophan Turkey Day triathlon in Kailua-Kona with his wife Natascha, Clark, a longtime endurance sports enthusiast, woke up the following night and noticed an uncontrollable contraction in left hand, then suffered a seizure.
After being rushed to hospital and then evacuated to Oahu followed by a battery of medical tests, the results revealed a large tumor pressing into a crucial area of his brain. Clark immediately went to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
While the life expectancy of this form of brain cancer varies from person to person, Clark was determined to overcome obstacles early on. The 42 difficult days of surgeries, radiation therapy and chemotherapy left Clark partially paralyzed on the left side of his body. However, it was his Ironman mentality on the inside – anything is possible – that helped Clark conquer his grueling rehab program.
Slowly but surely he went from being a nail in bed, to a wheelchair, to a walker, to walking alone. He returned home to the Big Island in March 2020 to continue his rehabilitation and by July he was back to cycling and gaining more strength every day. A year after being diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, he was back in the 5K and 10K run and was considering training for his first Ironman distance.
In early March of this year, Clark contacted Wild.
“Hey, I want to do something crazy before things get worse with my brain cancer,” Wild Clark told him. “I want to take the Ironman course. We could call it Ironman for Hope and raise money for Kona Hospice and North Hawaii Hospice.
Wild couldn’t believe Clark’s positive spirit and ambition and immediately agreed to train him for an Ironman scheduled for August.
“I thought wow, he’s amazing. I have trained people for Ironman Kona before, but never anyone with his condition. There were a lot of things we had to adjust specifically for his safety, but we were going to do it.
Wild credits Clark with a remarkable positive outlook and outlook on life for dealing with his own personal stresses.
“When I look at my stress for the day, or my emotional struggles with certain things in my life, I look at her story, her resilience, her positivity, and her ability to keep going, to show herself,” Wild said. “And that’s what I tell my athletes. The main thing in this sport is just to show up. And Colin shows up every day, not just physically, but with his wit and positivity.
However, a recent MRI revealed that the tumor had grown, putting more pressure on the right side of her brain. His medical team in Los Angeles advised him to return immediately for another operation on Thursday.
“I just want to tell you a little bit about the glioblastoma, the tumor, so you understand,” Clark said. “I have a tumor on the right side of my brain, and what it does is it affects and puts pressure on my motor functions. That’s why I can’t really use my left arm right now. The good news is I’m going to LA, and they’re going to open it up and remove part of the tumor. The goal on Thursday is to operate and extract 65% of the tumor. I’ve been through this once before, so I know what it looks like. The goal is to come back soon, and above all, to come back strong and regain some of my motor functions.
Clark, a native of Scotland who moved to Kona in 2017 to serve as General Manager / Regional Vice President of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, described the outpouring of support from the Kona community for the Scottish Warrior scene, Mel Gibson, at Braveheart.
“In Scotland we have the Braveheart movie,” he said. “And there’s a part in Braveheart where he rushes in with his sword drawn and he looks behind him and all the Scots are there with him. And that’s how I feel today. You are all here together, for me and for our community as well.
Clark’s inspirational story touched the lives of many through appearances on Good Morning America, Hawaii News Now, KHON2 News and two documentaries: Twice the Speed, Half the Fun and Ironman for Hope. To date, his Ironman for Hope Charity has raised $ 33,000 for Hospice of Kona and North Hawaii Hospice.
“Never stop,” legendary Hall of Fame swim coach Steve Borowski said of what he learned from Clark. “I learned so much from him in terms of tenacity. I have a lot of injuries and surgeries, but what he’s doing is amazing. What an example of an incredible positive attitude – anyone who meets it can feel it.
Uncle Earl Regidor, director of the Hawaiian Cultural Center at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and who gave a Hawaiian blessing before the half-mile swim, echoed Borowski’s sentiments.
“He’s such a strong man – him and his wife,” Regidor said. “They are a perfect team who support each other the best they can. I can speak for the Four Seasons that we wish him all the best and we pray that everything goes well so that we can see him here again.
Clark and Natascha have been married for 30 years and have a daughter, Nadja. Natascha said he will always be the most incredible Braveheart.
“He is my rock – my North, my South, my East, my West,” she said. “This is my universe. He says he leans on me, but I lean on him just as much, probably more. This fight, this warrior spirit that he has – I knew he had always had it in him but I see it every day. I learn new things from him which makes me a stronger and better person. An event like today, bringing the community together is truly the most uplifting part of all of history. This is what it is about. It’s not about Colin, or me, or cancer. It’s about bringing everyone together on the same page, celebrating life, and having a positive attitude to help and support each other.
Before entering the crystal clear waters of Kaiakeakua Beach, Clark read a poem that he says keeps him going every day.
If you swim in front of me, I might not be able to keep up.
If you swim behind me, I might not be able to drive.
If you swim next to me, I can be your friend.