BY LEANN DILBECK –
Cross Country athlete Clint Buck has returned home from the trip, and experience, of a lifetime with a renewed vigor to dominate in his field. Buck, the son of Melanie Buck and the late Robert Buck, who will be a sophomore this fall at Mena High School, was fortunate enough to be invited and attend the 26th Annual Down Under International Games, held in the land down under, on the Gold Coast of Australia. A trip and experience that has expanded this ambitious young man’s track aspirations to now include the Olympics.
Down Under Sports, also called International Sports Specialists, Inc. (ISSI), hosts the games each year in Australia and New Zealand. Their goal is to “continue to provide athletes who excel in their sport the opportunity to experience the culture, beauty and grandeur of the land Down Under all within the framework of spirited and intense competition in many different sports.” The games have been the first step in many professional athletes careers, from pro-football players to Olympic athletes.
It all began last spring when Buck received a letter inviting him to represent the state of Arkansas and the United States on the North Central Conference Team for Down Under Sports, to compete in two races: the Gold Coast Airport Marathon Suncorp Bank 5.7K Challenge, hosted by the home country; and the All-American 5K, part of the Down Under Games. Upon accepting the invitation Buck, with the help of his biggest cheerleaders, his family, raised over $5000 to pay for expenses. “The fundraising was hard but it taught me that if you want something you have to work for it, and if you’re asking someone for money to help, you have to show them how hard you work. Every dollar I raised motivated me to run harder. I want to thank all of the businesses and individuals who contributed, without all of you this would have never been possible,” said Buck.
Buck is one of only 300 selected from across the United States to compete in the games and due to expenses, not all go. This year, 96 runners represented Down Under Sports, three, including Buck, were from Arkansas.
Buck, 15-years-old on the day he flew from Dallas, Texas to Brisbane, Australia, said he was “excited, nervous, and ready for the experience, but not so much for a 15-hour flight.” Upon landing in Australia, it was a whirlwind of practices, activities, and racing.
His first race, the Suncorp Bank 5.7K Challenge, was held on Saturday, July 5, on the Gold Coast Highway in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia. The course was a complete asphalt surface and the race had 3,834 competitors of all ages. Buck, who has only been running for little over a year, impressively came in 64th overall and 41st in his age group, which places him in the top 2% of the world’s best. “All in all, it was different because the distance was a little farther than I’m used to but I’m pleased with my results,” stated Buck. He added, “Now that I know what’s out there, I know where to set my goals.”
The day after his first race, Buck celebrated his sixteenth birthday by flying to Lady Elliot Island and spending the day snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. “It was a great experience to learn about the different plants and wildlife they have there. It was cold but amazing.”
He also got to experience a wildlife sanctuary, with kangaroos and koalas, and an Aboriginal dance before his second race on July 8, the All-American 5K, held in Pizzey Park. Buck finished 34th overall and 16th in his age group against his fellow Down Under athletes. “I felt more confident in that race and more competitive because there were fewer people and we were all elite runners.”
Before returning home, the team stopped in Hawaii for three days for some good ol’ fashion ‘fun in the sun’ as a reward for their hard work. Visiting Pearl Harbor, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, and the Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center were highlights of the trip however Clint fell in love with surfing. “Besides the races, and meeting so many new friends, it was my favorite part of the trip.”
Buck stated that this is a big step in his future goals, “I want to run in college and work my way up to the Olympics. This trip has made me realize that I can make it as far as I want, the sky is the limit, as long as I’m willing to work for it. God blessed me with talent and great family and community support and I want to make them all proud for as long as I can and travel the world while doing it.”