2023 Students of Distinction

Boden Clark won battle with cancer, started foundation to help others

Posted on May 12th, 2023 By:

Gig Harbor Now is posting profiles of each of the Students of Distinction being honored by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. The students will be honored during a banquet from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, 2023, at Ocean5, 5268 Point Fosdick Dr.

Student: Boden Clark

School: Peninsula High School

Category: Overcoming Adversity 

In late 2019, Bo Clark was a varsity wrestler and set to be a key player on the lacrosse team when he began to sense that something was wrong.

He couldn’t make it through the school day without falling asleep. He hurt all over. A simple fracture wouldn’t heal.

A few months later, Bo was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. A blood test showed that 97 percent of his blood was cancer.

Grueling treatment

The disease has a high survival rate, but also has one of the longest, most grueling treatment cycles – two-and-a-half years of almost non-stop chemotherapy.

Doctors told him that his dreams of playing sports — even finishing school —were unrealistic.

For the next year, it was one chemo session after another for days on end, with intense pain, complications and other unpleasant side effects. Every day there was some new challenge.

Even beyond the excruciating pain, the worst thing, he said was losing his mental acuity. He could barely count to ten. It was like his brain had stopped working. That was his biggest challenge – not being able to “think.”

Boden Clark

“At times I just wanted to give up. But I knew that I couldn’t — if not for myself, then for my family,” he said.


Through it all, Bo became acutely aware of just how much determination and stamina it takes “to just keep getting up after being knocked down” again and again. He not only triumphed over the disease, he earned a spot on the school’s honor roll for his academic success and even was able to continue playing sports.

This year, he won a medal at the state wrestling tournament. This spring, he captains the Peninsula High lacrosse team.

Most important, he has gained “a profound gratitude for the gift of each day. I’m grateful for the second chance I was given that helped me reframe my life and gave me a purpose and determination forged in the fires of hell.”

He also found a new commitment — helping others.

Clark founded “Unite to Fight,” a foundation dedicated to helping other teens who have cancer. He has raised more than $12,000 that provides comfort items for extended hospital stays, financial support and new portable gaming systems for in-patient wards.

“With the help of the community, young cancer patients will know they have someone in their corner even on the darkest days,” he said.

Making a difference

In spite the fact that leukemia took almost three years of his life and most of his high school experience, Bo has some good memories of high school, as well. His favorite thing academically has been to be able to continue to go to school, after being told that most ALL patients don’t try to return to classes.

Athletically, wrestling at state is his favorite memory. “Lots of people thought I was just sticking with sports just to make an appearance. But I proved that I could compete and make a difference,” he said.

That perseverance and determination is the thing he’s proudest of “being able to continue being who I was. I was a good athlete before I got sick and a good student. Even when my mental acuity was gone I was still able to keep at it. They told me college wasn’t an option, but I’ve proved them wrong.”

The next step for Bo is Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. He has been recruited to play for their Division II nationally ranked lacrosse team, while he majors in exercise science with a pre-occupational therapy concentration. After college he plans to enter the Marine Corps and, if possible, work with a K9 unit. (His family got a dog just before Bo was diagnosed, and she “was really helpful to me during all those hard times,” he said.)

Eventually he wants to work with pediatric cancer patients as an occupational therapist.

“It has been nothing short of inspiration to get to know Bo,” PHS history instructor Kyle Kendall wrote in a letter of recommendation. “He never used his medical condition as an excuse to not do something. It always seemed to be an inconvenience, a challenge and an obstacle to overcome. Though he needed accommodations, his character was on full display.”

Bo’s advice to youngsters just entering high school is to “be true to yourself and don’t give up on anything.”

Bo Clark

Parents: Kurt and Trulie Helgerson

Favorite teacher: Mr. Kendall – US History, AP US Government. Bo was his Teachers Assistant. “Mr. Kendall is dedicated to his students and makes special efforts to connect with them on an individual level. He is fully invested in helping us succeed as students and young adults. I know he cares about me and all of his other students. He is a wonderful teacher, mentor and friend.”

Best thing about PHS: The community of students, teachers and staff. “Everyone is there for each other. It’s difficult to explain but coming from a much bigger school, Peninsula is a breath of fresh air.”