Tara Clemens is running to glory at Illinois Wesleyan this season. (Photo courtesy Marc Featherly/IWU Sports)
By Bryan Bloodworth
BLOOMINGTON - Tara Clemens has understandably never felt like she had to live up to older sister Mackenzie’s accomplishments during her track career at Illinois Wesleyan University.
And why would she?
After all, Mackenzie was a three-time Division III All-American and national champion in the 800-meter indoor run and as a member of the school’s 4 x 400-meter indoor and outdoor relay teams during her career from 2007-2010.
That’s a pretty tough act to follow, but Tara is well on her way to making her mark at IWU and on the national scene.
In a span of two weeks, the Bloomington High School graduate posted the top times nationally among Division III runners in the 800-meter and mile runs while establishing school records in both.
And, more recently, she also posted the second-best time in Division III in the 400-meter run.
The senior business-marketing major, who was named the National Division III Track Athlete of Week recently after running a 2:10.48 in the 800, recorded the nation’s top time in the mile a week later with a 4:59.69 clocking.
“I’m definitely starting out a little quicker this season than I have in previous seasons,” Tara said. “Definitely going into the season, I was hoping to touch those records, but it was like the highest hope. I’m ecstatic.”
Clemens said she didn’t enter the season with a specific agenda in mind.
“I have long-term goals for the end of the season where I want to be, so I have this for a starting point” she continued. “It’s looking very good for where I could be in a couple of months when it comes to conference and the nationals.”
Clemens’ specialty is the 800 where she placed fourth (2:14:54) in the indoor meet and sixth in the outdoor event at last year’s Division III national meets. She also helped the 4 x 400-meter relay team place second in both meets.
Not bad for someone, who didn’t run track in high school because it conflicted with her soccer season and who didn’t want to run track in college.
“I ran track in middle school and was pretty successful, but I was stubborn and didn’t want to run track in college,” Tara continued. “I didn’t like the nerves with track growing up. I remember come high school I was happy not to have to do track anymore.
“I came to Wesleyan to play soccer, but it wasn’t how I thought it would be. It just wasn’t fun anymore and my sister could see that and started kind of pushing me back towards track. She was making me do workouts with her over winter break. The more workouts I did, the more I saw how good I was at running and it all kind of just fell back in place.”
Clemens said her “track nerves” came from the fear of defeat.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself and it doesn’t come from anyone but myself,” she continued. “I make it up in my mind. I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to nerves.
“I’m also very competitive and when I see there are so many runners faster than me I never feel satisfied no matter what Division. I want to be the best and I want to be the best I can be. I don’t think I’ve reached that yet. I just keep focusing on that.”
Clemens has her goals in mind, but doesn’t like to talk about them.
“I’m afraid I might jinx myself,” she said. “Definitely by the end of the season, I want to come out with a team trophy more than anything. That would make me the happiest if I could end my senior career with at least one more trophy and maybe two (indoor and outdoor).”
IWU track coach Chris Schumacher was obviously happy with Tara’s decision to return to track and isn’t surprised by her success.
“Part of the process is staying healthy, but I really think she has the opportunity to have one of the best seasons that Illinois Wesleyan has ever had from an individual,” said Schumacher.
“She is naturally gifted and is starting to conquer and understand the mental part of competing. When you combine that with her ability and drive, those are three dangerous combinations. I think when this year is said and done, Tara will be one of the best Division III has seen.”
To reach that lofty level, Tara knows she needs to improve on how she closes a race.
“That’s usually been a weakness for me,” admitted Clemens. “I need to leave a little bit more for the end. I’ve felt a lot stronger this year, so I feel I’ve improved in that area.
“A lot of (my race strategy) is instinct. A lot of it is made up during the middle of the race. Each race is different depending on the competition. I’m good at getting out fast in the first part of the race and pushing myself. That’s why I’ve been able to hit the better times in the end.”
In regards to living up to sister Mackenzie’s accomplishments, Tara doesn’t give it much thought.
“I feel like we’re more of a team. I never feel like I want to beat her,” said Tara. “I definitely have followed in her footsteps in a lot of what I’ve tried to do in my life. But it’s more like I want to extend the legacy longer - the Clemens’ name.”
Tara and Mackenzie aren't the only athletes from the Clemens' family to shine at IWU.
Their grandfather, Don, was captain of the 1951 undefeated Titan football team. Their father, Doug, was a four-year member and two-year letterman for the IWU gridders in 1976 and 1977.
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.