Lacrosse and Leukemia ­— Bo Clark’s Long Game

The Peninsula junior just finished a winning season in a year of chemotherapy.


The Peninsula High School Boys Lacrosse team won its final game of the season, beating crosstown rivals Gig Harbor High at Roy Anderson Field June 4 by 17-1 and ending the season with a 10-1 record after losing only to undefeated SPSL 4A Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma.

It was a stellar night for graduating Peninsula seniors on the team who never lost a game to Gig Harbor in high school. But the most extraordinary season finish came for the team’s starting face-off player, junior Boden Clark, 17.

In October 2019, Bo and his family moved to Wauna from Spokane where he played a little football, a lot of lacrosse, and also wrestled. He joined the PHS wrestling team right away but was eager to get back to lacrosse.

Bo was psyched after meeting Coach Rusty Wilder at a preseason lacrosse event in early January 2020 and learned the team needed a face-off player.

Meanwhile PHS wrestling got Bo into great shape. But at the end of the first round in tournament play that January, he broke a couple of ribs and lost the match.

A month later, while visiting his dad in Spokane, Bo was overcome by what felt like horrible growing pains — so intense it landed him in the emergency room. By day’s end he was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and immediately started receiving high doses of chemotherapy.

“We had one conditioning practice for lacrosse before I was diagnosed. And within a week of coming out of the hospital, Coach Rusty and all the guys on the team had signed a jersey and sent it to me. Rusty visited me in person and that really means a lot,” Bo said.

“I didn’t know any of these guys at all, but they all rallied. Which is more than I could ask from really anybody.”

Bo was on hardcore chemo but because he was in such good shape he was able to complete his first five-week treatment cycle in three weeks. He thought he might return to school, be a normal person, and did despite low energy and bad headaches, but he left after half a day.

The bad headaches came from spinal fluid leaking out of lumbar punctures where chemo was injected into his spine. All told, he said he spent over 150 days in the hospital.

“I couldn’t eat. I had bad sores in my mouth because of chemo,” he said. “I swelled up like a balloon because of the steroids I was on.”

He weighed 145 pounds at the start of wrestling season but treatment took him up to 186. He said he put on nearly 45 pounds of fat and water weight and lost pounds of muscle.

“You can’t look in the mirror anymore because you don’t like the way that you look. Some days I’d have to use a wheelchair just to get 10 feet to the bathroom. And you just want to curl up into a ball and hide and never come out,” Bo said.

“It’s like all of the worst –– stripping someone down to nothing, you take away everything they like to do, take away their friends, take away athletics — your brain stops working because of chemo brain and you’re left with just this shell. And then you have to keep deciding every day whether you want to keep living. It’s really tough.”

After finishing the bulk of his treatment, Bo didn’t know if he would be able to continue being an athlete. He was chunky, had little strength, and his confidence was nonexistent. But he knew he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he stopped doing what he loved.

By January 2021, lacrosse conditioning practices were approaching. Bo had his port removed early in the morning so he could show up for the first conditioning practice. He thought the odds he would get to play were low, but he was determined to be the best teammate he could possibly be.

“I don’t want to be a charity case that’s on the team just because everyone feels bad that I’m a cancer patient,” he said.

Having met Bo before he got sick, to see him as strong as he was then and to see his decline was heartbreaking for Wilder.

“That kid threw up every single practice at one point,” Wilder said. “When the other kids see what he’s doing and how much he loves the game, how much he’s willing to contribute and how far he’s willing to go to do it — Bo earned their respect.”

The first week Wilder was worried. But they made sure Bo stayed hydrated and when he did get sick, he stopped and that was it.

“I’ve never met a kid that had so much tenacity and fight in them, especially when they didn’t feel good,” Wilder said. “Bo is just a remarkable kid and it has been kind of a privilege to coach him.”

To Bo, the privilege was all his.

“I really don’t think I could have done it with any other group of guys. They all treated me like I was one of them. Nobody treated me like I was different. I remember one of our senior captains, in the beginning of our regular season practices, he was dodging around and put me on my ass. And I was like, ‘Great,’ ” he said.

“I think without that –– I don’t think I would have gone as far as I have. I don’t think I would have been where I am.”

Trulie Helgerson is proud of her son. She said Bo goes to practice or a game, comes home and takes chemo, goes to bed, and starts all over again.

“I think that takes a lot of courage, to put yourself out there knowing that you might not be at a high enough level, but he’s still doing it and still trying,” she said. “He inspires us every day.”

Bo earned a berth in a select lacrosse league for the summer. He flew to New York June 24 to play in his first tournament.

He plans to be back at PHS this fall.