Homer’s Hero

Cameron Conaway offers a moving and personal dedication to his mentor, martial artist Daryn Clark, who despite fighting brain cancer still dedicates his life to helping others.

This is a glimpse into a day of a man recently diagnosed with late grade Gliomatosis Cerebri, a rare and highly aggressive brain cancer whose adult patients seem to have between 2-12 months to live. He is a man who, in the span of a few hours, underwent full brain radiation, took his chemotherapy pills then stepped out of the cancer clinic and into the dojo to teach students who have Cerebral Palsy.

Daryn Clark

When I found out he was terminally ill, I flew in from Bangkok to be with Daryn Clark, the man who for the past two years had become a father figure and mentor in my life. We met through a discussion forum as we were both studying to become certified with the MMA Conditioning Association. Daryn’s accolades are impressive. As a martial artist he’s a 4th degree black belt in Yon Dan Isshinryu and Dragon Seni-Jutsu- Situational Fighting, a 1st degree black belt in Sho Dan Half Circle Jujitsu and the founder of WhatsYourFight.com. He has a Master’s degree in Family & Marriage Counseling and is the CEO of Southern Ingenuity, a company that helps seniors, children and disabled persons receive healthcare support.

Though this diversity certainly intrigued me, it was his personality that struck a chord with me. In the forums he was curious, open to learning and always asking questions. He had so much wisdom within him but he didn’t force it on anyone. As the weeks passed Daryn and I began Skype conversations—he in Louisiana to my Virginia. My move to Thailand with my fiancée was soon approaching and due to time constraints it was impossible for Daryn and I to physically see each other until I returned.

Our relationship grew over the next 18 months through emails, Skype sessions, phone calls and Facebook messages. I came to actually love the guy, and it got to the point where we let each other know it before ending our conversations, “Love you, man.”

Radiation machine, image courtesy of http://fightingsarcoma.blogspot.com

I now find myself writing while in his living room in Homer, Louisiana. One month ago today he passed out unconscious in the dojo and was sent by ambulance to the hospital. After exhaustive tests they came to the current diagnosis. He’s now in his second week of daily full brain radiation and I simply couldn’t wait any longer to see him. He and his wife just left to drive to Shreveport for treatment and I could not feel more inspired by what I’m witnessing from Daryn’s daily life. Take yesterday, for example.

The drive from Homer to the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center was a quiet one. We know how we feel about each other, we know the diagnosis and we know what it all means. We also know that this feels damn good—two men enjoying the open road with dense forest on either side, the wind blowing our hair as we tapped our hands to the beat of radio music, together. After check-in, the radiation tech allowed me in to see the machine before Daryn got all strapped into it. The room was white, totally void of emotion, yet Daryn’s smile seemed to paint the walls every color imaginable. It made sense. Here was a man who, when I first asked him how he was after the diagnosis, said: “It’s so interesting. There’s so much to learn.” I left the room and some 240 seconds later Daryn walked out with the same smile across his face, tasting something metallic in his mouth and ready to roll. Literally.

There are times in life that break parts of us… But the more I live the more I learn that we need to be broken now and again. The greatest mosaics are made from broken pieces.

We drove to downtown Minden, Louisiana where we pulled up to Clyde Stanley’s Martial Arts. Awaiting us were Edward and Nathan, two students with severe cerebral palsy that Daryn has been been working with for many years. When they first started visiting the dojo, they didn’t have the strength to pull themselves into their wheelchairs. Now, somehow, they look like gymnasts as they muscle themselves in. Sensei Allen and Sensei Robinson helped lead the class, the most beautiful martial arts class I’ve experienced in my life. No, this rivals the beauty of any moment in my life.

Tony Allen assists Edward and Nathan with neck raises.

At first I paced around nervously taking pictures. I didn’t know how to get involved. Then it was like looking at a Turner painting. I leaned against a wall and was totally mesmerized by the magnificence of it all, wanting to get closer but frozen still. I watched the instructors and students laugh at jokes, watched them grunt with muscular exertion as they pulled and pushed together to get stronger. And there was Daryn, rolling around in the painting he created, rolling around regardless of how his own body and mind are slowing down under the brutal regimen of cancer and radiation and chemo all at the same time.

After this class, Daryn stuck around and helped instruct back-to-back kids’ classes. It was not a nuisance or one more thing to do. Nor was it boring even though he has spent his life doing it. There is no belt color to represent this level of mastery; there is no higher level a martial artist can reach. After class he smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, grabbed his karate bag and we hit the road back to Homer. Another silent road trip filled with more emotion and words than any conversation. During the drive I reflected on how there are times in life that break parts of us—and I’m broken enough now to cry as I write this. But the more I live the more I learn that we need to be broken now and again. The greatest mosaics are made from broken pieces. We put the windows down, drummed beats on the dashboard and an African proverb came to me: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

 

Daryn’s family requests that donations on his behalf be sent to Elizabeth’s Hope: A group dedicated to finding cures for inoperable brain tumors in children and adolescents.

Daryn looking on as Tony Allen does leg stretches with Edward. Nathan smiles for the camera.

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About Cameron Conaway

Cameron Conaway is a former MMA fighter, an award-winning poet and the 2014 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State Altoona. He is the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet, Bonemeal: Poems, Until You Make the Shore and Malaria, Poems. Conaway is also on the Editorial Board at Slavery Today. Follow him on Google+ and on Twitter: @CameronConaway.

Comments

  1. David Karpel says:

    Cameron,

    Thank you for sharing this. You are so fortunate to have a mentor such as Daryn. His perseverance and integrity and pure good will are inspiring, and your sharing of his story fills me with conflicting emotions: sorrow for the state of his health, happiness for those he affects, guilt for being as healthy as I am and knowing I am not doing half of what I could/should be doing to bring as much light in the world as Daryn does with just his smile and will. I can only hope the inspiration I feel from reading about him will carry into action.

  2. Great piece Cameron

  3. Thank you for the story on Daryn. His heart and generosity define him best ,as he has much of each. Daryn is a Dragon Tab Brother to our Dojo here in Greenville SC. We give these tabs to outstanding people,that we believe typlify the best in Martial Arts and a commitment to excellence. Daryn is also one of the six people in the county ,I have awarded a certificate to in My system;Dragon Sen-I Jutsu. We have served together on the Isshin-ryu hall of Fame board and he was an advisor to my Isshin-ryu Cross-trainers Alliance. I would want Daryn with me in any situation.But most especially ,as a friend. He is a leader and a man who gets things done right the first time. He is one I would follow and have on occasions. When you say ;great husband, father, business man and friend ,you are saing Daryn Clarke. He is the right arm assistant to Master Clyde Stanley ,who is also in the same mold as Daryn. These two men have formed a bond of love, loyalty, mutual respect and giving of themselves to others. Clyde is also a tab holder and a brother. I am a better man for having known both of them. I don’t pretend to understand what has happened to Daryn or Clyde ,who recently had a very unexpected stroke. Both men were the pictures of health and trained daily. I try not to dwell on it, as it test my faith to do so. I will try to bear the weight of the situation ,as they so beavely do. I plan to drive to Minden when Clyde is back home from the hospital and I can spend time with both. Until then and after, I pray for a miracle.

  4. Thomas Matlack says:

    Wonderful raw and true piece Cameron. Yes we need to be broken. But it still hurts.

  5. Brady Allen says:

    Man. what a good article for a good man.About 4 months ago I almost died, I had multiple blood clots in both legs and lungs. I went down but did not stay down. I found out that I had a blood disorder. It was pretty depressing at first, till I thought of Dayrn Clark’s saying “Whats your Fight” then I thought everybody has their own fight in life and this was mine. There is no number to go with how many fights we all have, the important thing is to take Dayrns advise an always fight. I love the pic of Dayrn watching as my big brother Tony Allen does streches with Edward. Two mentors at work.

  6. Wow, you guys fight a different fight! It’s a very touching tribute to an obviously remarkable man. Thanks for sharing him with us.

  7. William Mercier says:

    Your dedication to Daryn with your heartfelt explanation “… But the more I live the more I learn that we need to be broken now and again … The greatest mosaics are made from broken pieces.” Eloquent, Cameron. My same condolences to Maggie as well.

  8. Denver Jeffers says:

    I live in Crossett, Ar. And worked with his mom and knew his dad. Very good people. So sorry in their loss. I know how it hurts to lose a grown child. We will understand it better by and by.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Daryn Clark (see: Homer’s Hero) was diagnosed with a rare and terminal brain cancer he founded What’s Your Fight?, an initiative […]

  2. […] Daryn Clark (see: Homer’s Hero) was diagnosed with a rare and terminal brain cancer he founded What’s Your Fight?, an initiative […]

  3. […] Homer’s Hero: Cameron Conaway’s dedication to his mentor, martial artist Daryn Clark, who despite fighting brain cancer still dedicates his life to helping others. […]

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