By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Michael Clark is a regular at Fitness 101 in Kearney.
That’s where he goes to push his mental and physical limits through intense, muscle-building workouts that have transformed his body over the past two-plus years.
“It’s my favorite part of the day,” said Clark, who spends at least 90 minutes in the gym during each session. “It’s never easy and I’m always challenging myself.”
The 23-year-old Kearney native isn’t a competitive bodybuilder, although he certainly looks the part. His commitment to physical fitness is driven by other factors.
Clark studies exercise science at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The program provides a strong academic background for students interested in a variety of careers in the fitness, wellness and health care fields.
“The coolest part for me is understanding how the human body works and pushing those boundaries,” said Clark, who has a minor in nutrition. “I want to work with people and help them push their own boundaries.”
Specifically, Clark wants to work with collegiate athletes.
“The ultimate dream is to be a Division I collegiate football strength and conditioning coach,” he said.
Clark, who works at Nutrishop in Kearney, had that goal in mind when he started looking for internships for the spring semester.
Matt Bice, an associate professor of exercise science at UNK, pointed him toward a website with opportunities specifically focused on strength and conditioning. One of them stood out from the rest.
Duke University was seeking interns to work alongside staff in its sports performance facilities.
“I’ve been a lifelong Duke basketball fan, so I figured I had to at least try for it,” Clark said.
Supported by letters of recommendation from Bice, Fitness 101 owner Patrick Haddix and Ali Malmkar, a research associate in the UNK Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, Clark was accepted into the internship program that begins Jan. 6.
He’ll spend four months in Durham, North Carolina, learning from Duke’s strength and conditioning staff and assisting student-athletes from numerous sports.
“On any given week, I can work with athletes from fencing to volleyball to wrestling to swimming and diving,” he said.
Although the internship doesn’t include football or basketball, the Blue Devils also have national championship-caliber programs in lacrosse, soccer and golf.
“It’s going to be really cool to work with top-tier athletes like that,” said Clark, whose father Ford is a senior lecturer in UNK’s Department of Communication and mother Jennifer teaches kindergarten at Gibbon Public Schools.
“I have all the academic knowledge from UNK, but this is going to let me actually experience strength and conditioning firsthand, because there aren’t a lot of opportunities to do that here in Kearney,” Clark added.
After completing his internship, the senior will graduate from UNK in May, then he plans to pursue a master’s degree at a Division I university where he can also serve as a graduate assistant in an athletic department strength and conditioning program.
“Once I have my master’s, it’s going to be a lot easier to get into the field and start working,” he said.
Clark credits UNK’s “amazing” exercise science program and the “incredible” faculty and staff for starting him down that path.
“This program is awesome,” he said. “The faculty have always been there to help me whenever and wherever they can. They wanted to help me get where I want to go, and they’ve done that every step of the way.”
EXERCISE SCIENCE PROGRAM
Part of the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, UNK’s exercise science program is designed for students who want to be professionals in the fitness, nutrition, wellness, rehabilitation and health care fields.
The program utilizes a $6.5 million Wellness Center that opened in fall 2014 and includes a state-of-the-art Physical Activity and Wellness Lab with dedicated research space, a demonstration kitchen and private exercise room. Cushing Coliseum is also home to the Athletic Training and Education Lab.
Through a partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, UNK opened its $19 million Health Science Education Complex in fall 2015.
Strength and conditioning coach
Corporate wellness coordinator
Physical or occupational therapy
Clinical exercise physiology