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Community helps ABQ soccer coach recover from devastating injury

 The Albuquerque community has rallied around soccer coach and former UNM athlete Cameron Clarke after he suffered a spinal cord injury in early July.

With three children and serious medical expenses to pay, the Clarke family has turned to crowdfunding to offset the cost of treatment and travel expenses so that his family can be with him as he receives care at Craig Hospital in Denver.

“We have all the kiddos up here, commuting back and forth from the hotel to here. Everyday they’re spending it with me, over here at Craig and I go to physical therapy, occupational therapy, class, carrying my kiddos with Jodie following me around," Clarke said. "We look like the parents with the three ducklings following us around."

Clarke’s crowdfunding page on youcaring.com has been shared over 2,000 times. With only 580 donors, the family has been able to raise $50,000, nearing the page’s goal of $75,000.

According to Clarke, his brother’s girlfriend has spearheaded the crowdfunding page, allowing him to focus on recovery. Clarke said he has also seen support from Cibola High School, where he taught physical education and coached soccer for six years.

“You never really know how many people you might have affected or touched being a teacher or a coach,” Clarke said.

According to the crowdfunding page, Cibola High School is hosting both a school dance in August and a 5k fun run in September, with the proceeds going to the Clarkes.

“The support from close friends to the community, it helps keep me positive, but also kind of puts those expectations on you. You can’t have a bad attitude with that many people out there wanting to help you out. You really can’t,” Clarke said.

Rival soccer squads are also showing support for the Clarke family, as the Eldorado High School’s girls’ soccer team is collecting gift cards for family. 

Clarke is also receiving signs from goodwill from UNM athletics. He ran for the University in the mid-2000s.

“I really do want to thank Joe Franklin with track and cross country. They provide a lot of support for me being a track and cross country runner at UNM. I got a turquoise jersey from them, and you know it helped support [me] in my recovery, as well as Jeremy Fishbein with the UNM soccer community," he said. "Like I said, 'Once a Lobo, always a Lobo,' and their programs really prove that in helping support me,” Clarke said.

According to Clarke the biggest challenge has not been the work he puts in recovering from the spinal cord injury, but rather a hurdle on a more personal level. 

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“The biggest challenge is my family. It’s putting them in a hard spot. It’s tough for me not to be able to help because we’re a close family and we do a lot of things together. I guess sometimes you get that reality check. Sometimes I live outside of reality and just try to be as positive as I can,” he said. “I don’t think too much about what my limitations are at this point. Right now I don’t have plans to continue to have limitations. My plans are to get back to where I was.”

Clarke believes his experience coaching has helped prepare him for the recovery process.

“That’s the kind of thing you preach to your kids all the time as a coach, if you don’t expect to win, if you don’t expect to do well, if you don’t expect to work hard, and expect for yourself to do that, then that’s when you cut yourself short,” Clarke said. “Being an athlete growing up and now coaching, you’re gonna deal with a little of pain and you’re gonna deal with a little bit of heartache but all those experiences teach you to not let it happen again and to push forward with it.”

Clarke said his recovery is going well and he is beginning to regain feeling and movement in his toes and feet.

He said he expects to be hospitalized at least three more months, although how long he stays does depend on how he responds to treatment and on his insurance. In the future Clarke intends to become a supporter for people dealing with spinal cord injuries, and to return to coaching.

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