Valley alum Zach Clarke wins powerlifting gold at Pennsylvania Special Olympics

Monday, December 16, 2019 | 5:40 PM

At the beginning of November, Valley grad Zach Clarke traveled to Villanova University to compete in the Pennsylvania Special Olympics championships and came home with more than enough gold to go around.

Clarke won the overall gold in powerlifting and also won gold in the squat and bench press with lifts of 325 and 215 pounds, respectively. He also came home with a silver medal from the deadlift event where he lifted 407 pounds.

“I was so happy,” Clarke said of how he felt when he had a gold medal placed around his neck.

Zach has overcome a lot to get where he is today. Along with having a form of autism, Zach has been in and out of hospitals and has seen specialists for an undiagnosed neuromuscular disorder that he’s had since he was 16 months old.

“On occasion, his body just becomes paralyzed and he can’t walk,” Zach’s mom, Kathy Clarke, said. “When he was in high school here at Valley, he was in a wheelchair a lot because of that disorder. It just comes upon him really fast.”

Still, Clarke has pushed on through everything. He played on the football team and lifted weights throughout high school. When the gym at Valley High School first opened up, one of Zach’s coaches, Billy York, said he was there almost every day and he was always looking to get better.

“He has a desire to do it and he wants to be the man,” York said. “He has improved immensely over the past couple years and with the mentality he has, he has a drive. “

The background for the sport has always been there. Zach just needed an outlet.

Then, the Westmoreland County Special Olympics started a powerlifting program and Zach has been involved for the past two years.

He was already playing basketball at the time, so Zach decided to try out powerlifting as well. With his background of lifting weights from high school and his natural competitive attitude, his Special Olympics coach Jack Butler said he was a natural.

“He definitely was,” Butler said. “But like with anybody, he just needs somebody to remind him that he can do more. He has the ability to do more and has the natural talent and mindset to have success.”

Zach started training two to three times a week with coaches at Valley High School, the Special Olympics and at Cheswick’s Anytime Fitness gym, and he still continued to play basketball as well.

All the hard work and training paid off at the beginning of November when he performed exceptionally well at the state championships. His competitive attitude shined once again when he went up for the final lift of the competition.

“I asked him what he wanted the weight to be and he said, ‘Tell him I want to go all-in. I want to blow them away,’” Butler said. “If you would’ve seen his eyes, when he said it, that’s the type of energy that he has.”

A state championship is one of Zach’s many accomplishments, but he’s not quite done yet.

“I think that would be pretty amazing,” Zach said about competing at the national competition. “Hopefully I can win.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .

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