"It allows me to see the world in a different way, and it gives me a platform to make a difference..."
The sound of her walker passing my door was familiar. I grew up in one just like it and know the sound well. Her Gator AFO braces on her feet made me smile, because when I was in ones just like hers, I begged my mom to let me get fun ones. I would’ve been on cloud nine if I had Gator ones like hers.
“Did you see the girl in the walker and the Gator AFOs?” my dad asked me on move-in day.
“Yeah, a lot cooler AFOs than any I ever had,” I responded, jokingly giving Mom a hard time.
“You should meet her, looks like CP.”
Fast forward a few weeks from that conversation, as I was walking through my dorm building’s back door, I saw that same girl coming towards me. She confidentially walked past her room and right up to me.
“I’ve been meaning to meet you. I’m trying to learn how to walk with crutches, could you help me?”
I smiled, “I’ve been meaning to meet you too. I’m Jordan. Absolutely, let’s do it.”
And from there, my friendship with Robyn Clarke was formed.
And this is her story.
Though originally from Georgia, Robyn Clarke was never meant to be a Bulldog. If you meet her, you’re bound to be greeted with a huge smile, accompanied by her orange and blue nails or a Gator shirt or both. If you ask me, she was born to be a Gator. Orange and blue is in her blood, and UF Athletics is her dream; from a very early age, Clarke was captivated and head-over-heels for every and all things Florida Gators. And now, her undying love for this school is writing the course of her life.
Clarke is 18-years-old and is one of the most confident people I’ve ever met. Born with Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy (CP), her determination and confidence are impossible to miss. She’s a freshman sports journalism major here at the University of Florida, fully embracing life in the Swamp. You can find her at Florida volleyball matches, eagerly watching the Florida team that means the most to her; at Florida Football games, cheering and calling plays at the top of her lungs; and around UF’s fully accessible dorm, laughing with friends. Clarke says that being at UF is truly her dream come true, because her dream job is to work for UF Athletics. Though life as a college student mixed with CP does present some challenges, Clarke has never let it slow her down or deter her from her dreams.
“It allows me to see the world in a different way, and it gives me a platform to make a difference. And that’s the best part about [having CP].” Clarke says, explaining her positive outlook on her life spent in a walker. Clarke has undergone two surgeries to help her physical situation, grew up using a walker and now also uses a motorized wheelchair to get around UF’s massive campus and is working towards walking with two forearm crutches.
Growing up, that strong confidence I told you about was key for Clarke. She says she can only remember one true instance that made her feel different.
“When I was 12, a boy said something like ‘You can barely walk’ to me. For a while, that got into my head. I felt different about myself… I started to notice when people would stare at me. And I felt not normal, not good enough and not beautiful.” Clarke says, describing the experience. But when those thoughts and feelings started to seep in, someone very special stepped into her life. When she turned 15, one of her best friends told to pack a bag and that they were heading to Florida. She wasn’t sure what her friend was up to exactly, but she went along with it.
Little did she know, one of her biggest dreams was about to come true.
As a life-long, die-hard Gator fan, it’s a probably no surprise to you that Clarke is also one of Tim Tebow’s biggest fans. And for a long time, it was her dream to meet Tebow. And that weekend, Clarke found herself in Jacksonville, Florida at the Tim Tebow Foundation Golf Classic.
“He’s been my inspiration my whole life, and I had always wanted to meet him.” Clarke told me, recalling the story of that weekend, “We went to his golf tournament, and he came up… he was like ‘It’s so good to see you!’ and he gave me a hug… We kept in touch with his Foundation after that. And then six months later, they granted my W15h to spend time with him. We started in Atlanta and went to Athens for his pre-game show… I’ve been really lucky to be a part of his Foundation’s family.”
In 2018, Clarke found herself at Tebow’s Foundation Gala, interviewing celebrities on the red carpet.
“I got to talk to all of [the celebrities] that came in… it was so cool.”
Tebow’s love and support has carried and helped Clarke through so much. Clarke says that in that time where she began to notice when people stared at her walker, Tebow’s words of encouragement were what reminded her of her worth and that people staring didn’t matter.
Now at the University of Florida, Clarke explains that she’s experienced more independence than ever here at UF.
“[In college], if something isn’t accessible, you can fix it. And you have a voice to say, ‘Hey, this doesn’t really work.’”
And even socially, Clarke has seen major differences in a college environment.
“There’s just a different vibe on this campus. People don’t care [about my disability]… Just overall here, it’s different. And I’ve felt that from the times I’ve come here since I was little. Overall, college has been more accepting.” But Clarke makes in clear that none of her college experience would be possible without her family.
“They have always found a way for me to do whatever it is we were doing. They’re my biggest supporters. Definitely.”
Clarke expresses that CP has definitely shaped who she is, but in good ways. She credits CP for giving her a passion for helping others. And says that really, CP is a blessing in disguise.
While she says it’s her goal to touch millions, I hope Robyn Clarke knows how many people she has touched and continues to touch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without a smile. The way she goes after her dreams at full force is such an inspiration. Her faith in the Lord is radiant, and the way she cares for other people is incredible. There’s been weeks where I just offhandedly told Robyn that I was struggling to move that week because of the chronic pain that comes with my case of CP. Robyn has always been intentional about checking in on me or sending me a bible verse to keep me going.
Robyn, know that myself and many others are honored to call you friend. Know that I look up to you and your determination. Know that I’ll always have your back, and I am so excited to be part of your journey, to being on crutches and beyond.
You will do big things. You will touch millions.
Thanks for trusting me to put your story on From 3West.
Never lose your determination, faith and joy, friend.
Blessed to be living in Gator Nation with you.
And with that, I don’t think there’s a more appropriate way to end this one than with a big, wholehearted Go Gators and Go Robyn.