SaskatchewanΒ·MEET THE RIDERS

Riders' centre Dan Clark hugging his kids extra tight after car crash

Few Saskatchewan Roughriders appreciate home as much as Dan Clark.

Clark talks about the importance of family, his mental journey following crash

Saskatchewan Roughriders centre Dan Clark says the mental side of the game is often harder than the physical side. (Peter Mills/CBC)

Few Saskatchewan Roughriders appreciate home as much as Dan Clark.

The Riders are finally back in Regina for their home opener on Canada Day and the game will be significant for Clark.Β 

Despite already playing a decade of CFL football in his hometown, the 31-year-old Clark recently had a life-changing experience that is ensuring he doesn't take anything for granted.

When Clark isn't playing football, he's travelling across the province to help students in his role as a youth ambassador with the Red Cross. On May 7, Clark was traveling home from a community event in Cudworth, Sask., when his vehicle rolled several times. Clark was ejected from the vehicle and taken to hospital.

The exact details of the crash are still unknown, but Clark returned to field less than a month later.

Clark recently spoke to CBC's Peter Mills about his mental and emotional recovery, how the crash has affected his life, and the importance of his family.

Saskatchewan Roughriders centre Dan Clark (67) at practice on June 27, 2019. (Peter Mills/CBC)

'Go dad go'

Clark's daughter and son can often be seen in the stands at Riders practice. On this day, his daughter waved and cheered him on.

"I have been very privileged for 11 years now to be able to have support whether it's through my parents or my grandma and grandpa coming out. Now my wife and her family [have been] able to come on support me. And now having kids ... it's about winning and losing games, but it kind of gets wiped away when you can run on the field with them after ... It's amazing.

"I've always seen guys like J.O. [Riders general manager Jeremy O'Day] and Geno [Gene Makowsky] and Sholo [Keith Shologan] with his kids and it's always something that I wanted. Now that it's mine, it's unbelievable to be able to come and have her run on the field and now [his son] Kash. Kash is slowly starting to move around so he just puts his hand on the ball. Or he is probably eating the ball right now."

Home is where the heart is

"I grew up as an only child. I went to Dr. L.M. Hanna elementary school [in Regina] and then I just went across the bridge to Thom Collegiate. Once I got kind of older, I started looking at Taylor Field every day and I was like, 'Man, that would be a sick place to work every day.' I played junior with the Regina Thunder and now in glorious 11 years with the Riders. It's been it's been a wonderful process.

"I had multiple choices to go other places in Canada to go play post-secondary [football] and you know what, it's about staying home ... home is where my heart is. I don't want to go anywhere else. I want to be able to be to go my family if I need them."

Saskatchewan Roughriders offensive lineman Dan Clark celebrates a touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the third quarter of CFL football action at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday, July 21, 2013 in Regina. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards)

A helping hand Β 

After his car crash in May, Clark said people across Canada reached out to him to make sure he was OK.

"The outpour was amazing. People on Twitter, people on Instagram, people in the community checking on me to see how I'm doing ... it made me feel good and made me feel like, you know what, it's just not about what you do on the field, it's about what you do in the community and how you represent your brand. We have to represent a huge brand in the Riders but it's also how you represent yourself."

Saskatchewan Roughriders' Dan Clark makes a reception in the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of a CFL football game against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday August 24, 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

When Clark was in the hospital in Saskatoon, his family and friends raced to be by his side.

"The first time I was able to talk to my daughter and my son β€” my son can't talk to me β€” but my daughter said, 'Daddy OK?' Β That was unbelievable. When I first got out of the hospital, [former Rider and Red Cross colleague] Scott McHenry was one of the first people there ... everybody rushed up [from Regina], my wife, my mother-in-law, my father in law, and my parents were definitely right there with me. That's something that I cherish. And you know what, the support that I've had from this team has been unbelievable ... It's a huge family."

Hugging his kids extra tight

Clark said the crash didn't change him, but he learned to not take anything for granted.

"I don't think there was a second that I didn't think I was going to make it through it. But maybe the first time I got to see them [his kids] a little hug and kiss a little bit better, hugged my daughter and my son a little bit tighter, hug my wife. But after that it was just the same old carry on throughout your day.

"The accident was May 7 and think we reported [to the Riders for the new season] on the 17th. I just got back on the road like nothing happened. I'm not going to let one accident or one mishap ruin what we're trying to do with the Red Cross. I'm still going to put in the hours that I am [and] trying to be in the community, trying to go out and doing as much as I can."

Tackling the mental side of life

Clark was able to return to football less than a month after the crash, but he said it's not just about being physically ready.

"I think the mental is still everyday. I'm probably my worst critic. I'm probably the hardest person on me. I could have a good day or have a good practice or a good game and I always think the worst. So coming from the accident I put a lot of added stress on myself. Build it up bigger than I should be, so I'm just trying to learn how to overcome that. I wouldn't say there's any like mental [health] issues that I'm trying to deal with, I'm just really, really hard on myself. But the support that I have, like our athletic therapists are more like psychologists a lot of the time for us so they help us through everything like that."

One lesson for his kids

"Work ethic. It doesn't matter if you're the biggest name or what you're doing in what sport or in the classroom or art or dance or whatever. You're going to put the time in. If you're going to start something, you're going to finish it. The biggest thing is just try to outwork everybody. It's about when the teacher is not looking or it's when the coaches aren't looking, what are you willing to do when no one else is around?Β 

Dan Clark is in his 11th season with his hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders. (Peter Mills/CBC)

Fountain of useless information

Clark also answered some lighthearted questions, including why he hates trains and tartar sauce, and why he doesn't like his kids sneaking into his room late at night. Listen here:

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Roughriders (0-2) take on the Toronto Argonauts (0-1) at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Monday, July 2. Kickoff is at 5 p.m. CST.


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About the Author

Peter Mills is an associate producer at CBC Saskatchewan and the host of the Meet The Riders podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TweeterMillsCBC. Do you have a story idea? Email peter.mills@cbc.ca.

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