Alex Cleary finds himself in a very different place than where he was three years ago. Three years ago the young prop was signing up for his local rugby club, and now Cleary is telling stories of bearing the American flag at the Open Ceremony of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
“I had no idea that I would be even close to where I am today. Literally, three years ago I was trying to start on my local club team” says Cleary as he recounts on what he consistently describes as a surreal moment.
When the time came that Cleary was handed the American flag, he immediately felt its weight, “The flag itself was pretty light, but at the same time it felt super heavy.”
“I didn’t want to mess this up. I understood its importance and that I couldn’t do anything goofy – that this was to be taken seriously.”
“Right when I got on stage, I was thinking about my movements and where TEAM USA was in the crowd.” Cleary honorably led TEAM USA through the parade of nations only stopping once to perform the instructed flag wave then carried on.
“Once I walked off the stage it all hit me. I was like, ‘Wow that just happened.‘ It is a cool feeling to represent your county like that. It is such an honor.”
Throughout the experience, Cleary felt highly supported, “I had so much love from my friends and family back home. I am from a tiny town in Washington, and even the locals were sharing what I was doing on social media.”
Humbled by the outpour of the support, Cleary gives his parents credit for making it all possible. “The ones that helped me the most were my Mom and my Dad. The moment I told my parents I wanted to start focusing on rugby, they jumped all in.”
“All the big rugby matches were not near me – the matches were in Seattle. So, on Saturdays or Sundays, my mom and dad were up early driving me 2 hours to the tournaments.”
“Without them, there is no way that I would be where I am today – they were the ones that did the most for me.”
Cleary explained how this experience brought him new gratitude for the sport, “I have a whole new level of love for the sport after seeing how big rugby is world-wide. These countries come together and show huge love for the sport. That is what I plan to bring back when I go home”.
The aspiring rugby athlete had a couple of pieces of advice for other young athletes starting out, “First, take advantage of every opportunity you are given and prove yourself on the field. Second, wait your turn – there might be someone starting in-front of you now, but if you put your head down and keep working you will see a return.”
Lastly Clearly shared the important advice to do it because you love it, “It has to be an obsession. If you are passionate enough about it then people will find a way to use that passion.”
Cleary has high hopes for the future in rugby as he aims to continue to represent his county on an even bigger stage. This future Eagle has his eye on the men’s sevens team, saying that making the team would be another very special moment in his life.
Cleary and his teammates can be seen playing live Saturday, October 13th on the olympicchannel.com
You can help aspiring young athletes like Alex hone their skills and partake in the growing experiences like this by making a gift to Junior All-Americans today.
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