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Dan Clark
Dan Clark visits with members of the military during a tour of military bases in Iraq.

Recently back from a two week tour of military bases in Iraq where he became "the first motivational speaker ever to make a tour" there, Salt Laker Dan Clark was ebullient.

During an interview at the Deseret Morning News, he said, "Soldiers in Iraq understand they are in the staging area to change the world.

"Because we're in Iraq, Syrian troops were pulled out of Lebanon. Because we're in Iraq, Iran is much more tolerant. When you realize how Saddam (Hussein) corrupted and destroyed his country for his own benefit, you see how one moment in time changes everything. These soldiers sense they are changing history."

Clark got a rush from living with the servicemen for two weeks, interviewing them and eating with them. And he plans to write a book about this "opportunity of a lifetime."

Clark, who delivers 150 to 200 speeches a year all over the country, has written more than 20 books. His latest, due out soon, is titled "The Answers Are Still in the Box."

"People always say you've got to think outside the box. What if the answers are still in the box?"

"Life," he said, "is not about the answers — it is about the questions."

Now 50 years old, Clark, who has been on the motivational-speaking circuit since 1980 and is currently one of the top speakers in the country, considers himself very patriotic, even though he has never served in the military — he was never at the right age to serve in a war. It has given him great satisfaction to give free motivational speeches for the military, leading to his Iraq invitation.

Although he said he was not told by military officers what to say to the troops, he is upbeat about his conversations with them.

Clark didn't set out in life to be a motivational speaker — he hoped to be a professional football player or even a baseball pitcher. But he got hit in a tackling drill while playing football at the University of Utah on a scholarship.

"My right side went numb, I lost my speech, my eye drooped and my arm dangled. I had a serious concussion. I went to 16 different doctors. They all said I would never recover more than 10 percent of my physical ability. I lost my identity."

His dreams of becoming a professional athlete were "shattered in one day." He felt sorry for himself. He remembers trying for a year to get back his motor development "so I could move my arm 10 times above my head." Then he was invited to give a speech to a high school football team in Morgan.

"The Morgan coach, Jan Smith, showed up to meet me in a makeshift golf cart/wheelchair. He had multiple sclerosis. He touched my heart in that nonverbal way we can't explain. I spoke to his team before seven of the eight games they won that year."

Clark eventually recovered the physical abilities he had lost on the football field — but his destiny lay on the dais. Soon he was speaking at other high schools in Utah and throughout the state — then he was speaking around the country to various youth groups. It culminated in his membership in the National Speakers Association and his role of spokesman for former first lady Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" drug campaign. He made the transition to speaking to the corporate world in 1990.

Clark's only course in public speaking was taken at the University of Utah — he remembers getting a B minus.

E-mail: [email protected]