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Positively Thriving Samantha clement '19

Samantha Clement was in the woods and she was miserable.

She was on a field trip with her sixth-grade class – a week-long outdoor science camp – and all she wanted to do was go home. She hated being outdoors. She found that she couldn’t sleep, was terribly homesick, and worst of all her best friend, Melody, in the midst of a three-year battle with cancer, wasn’t on the trip.

“The first night there I was just crying, because I was so miserable,” says Clement. “At the time Mel was in and out of chemo, so she could only stay for a few days. When her mom brought her up, I was excused from activities so I could just hang out with her, and then that night she was in the bunk above me and I slept like a baby just knowing she was there.”

At the end of that year, Melody passed away.

Years later, Clement got a tattoo to commemorate her friend’s life. Simple in its design, the sketch style tattoo features two geometrical mountain peaks behind a tree, as well as waves with the word “thrive” in all caps.

“When I went to get the tattoo, I thought about all my favorite memories of Mel,” says Clement. “The tree in the tattoo represents outdoor science camp and just how miserable I was until she came, and then how her arrival transformed the experience for me. The waves are for the fact that her family had a boat, and we were always going boating and swimming. And ‘THRIVE’ means to live vigorously. And that’s how she lived, and that’s what she would want me to do.”

Clement (far left) accompanied Melody on a Make-A-Wish trip to see a Jonas Brothers concert in Texas.

After Melody passed away, Clement became more focused on basketball. She had begun playing years earlier – thanks in large part to her grandfather and “best friend”, Steven, who played for Johns Hopkins – but Clement had been limited due to her own health issues. As a 9-year old, Clement stood at 4-foot-10 and tipped the scales at 130 pounds. She was also in constant pain.

It turned out that she had several severe food allergies, and after more than a year of testing it was determined that her body could not process gluten, rice, corn or soy.

“I was a tank,” laughs Clement. “My body just couldn’t handle the food I was eating. But once we figured out everything, I think I was in fifth grade and I lost 40 pounds in about two months.”

Just over a year later, with her best friend gone but her physical health improved, Clement turned to basketball as an outlet.

“I had always liked basketball, but once Mel passed it became something that made me feel better and made me smile for the first time.”

For those who know Clement, it’s hard to imagine her without a smile on her face. When described by friends and teammates the words most often used are positive, outgoing and funny.

“I’ve always been pretty happy, which is why I think Mel and I got along so well,” says Clement. “But she was really the most upbeat, lively person. She was so full of life, and I think that part of her is still with me. I think about how hard she fought and how badly she wanted to be here. To see her go through chemo three or four times, and then for me to not make the most out of every single day – if I took one moment of this life for granted, then I'd be a jerk.”

In the spirit of making every moment and opportunity count, Clement decided to take advantage of her father’s dual citizenship to further her basketball career. With several of her friends getting involved with the U.S.A. Basketball program, she decided to look into the possibility of joining England’s national teams.

“We didn't know if they even had a basketball team, because everyone over there only cares about soccer,” she says. “But my dad did some research, and I got in contact with the coach. I had just turned 15, and it was my spring break. I flew over for a try-out, and I actually made the team.”

As a member of the England U16 National Team, Clement played in the 2012 European Championships in Hungary, as well as the 2013 European Championships in Porto, Portugal. At the 2013 Championship, she was named the FIBA Player of the Game for England’s contest vs. Belarus.

“I played for England from the time I was 15 to the time I was 20, and it is was a wonderful experience,” she says. “I made so many friends, and I traveled to so many places that I never would have gone to otherwise – Slovenia, Poland, Montenegro, Portugal. It was amazing. It made me a better basketball player, and it made me a more aware person, because I traveled to these different places and learned all about these different cultures. It’s something I’ll keep with me always.”

That adventurous spirit eventually took the California native to the Cornell, where she’s a student in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. For Clement, ILR has been a perfect fit. With roughly 1,000 students all working toward the same major, she has found a home within the larger Cornell community that mirrors her niche with women’s basketball. Additionally, the coursework that she’s taken in ILR has helped prepare her to serve as the Big Red’s team captain as a senior.

“The classes we take in ILR have a focus on understanding both sides,” Clement says. “So you learn to understand management and you learn to understand the employees, and I think that translates to coaches and players. You see what management and coach wants, and you see what workers and players want. It’s about understanding both sides and trying to find a middle ground. Being a captain requires a lot of emotional intelligence and realizing that different people need different things, and they respond to different types of motivation.”

With her senior year winding down, Clement has already accepted a position with the insurance company Aetna in the general management development program. She will spend the next four and a half years working through three different rotations before becoming a manager in the area of her choice.

Before she begins her next journey, Clement will play in the final regular-season games of her career this weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth.

Clement was recently honored prior to her final home game in Newman Arena when the Big Red faced Brown on March 2. Playing in her 70th game overall and making the 27th start of her career, Clement provided an early spark, scoring seven points in the first five minutes of the game as the home team stormed to the 66-48 victory. She finished the contest with nine points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in the win.

The Big Red is hoping that last weekend’s sweep of Yale and Brown will provide the momentum it needs heading into its contests with the Crimson and the Big Green. Cornell still has a chance to snag one of the two remaining spots in the 2019 Ivy League Women’s Basketball Tournament – something it has yet to do in the short three-year history of conference post-season playoff – but it will need to win and get a little help in the form of league leaders Princeton and Penn defeating the Bulldogs.

Advancing to the tournament won’t be easy, and Clement knows better than most that there are no guarantees in life – but in typical fashion, she’s optimistic.

“I’ve been stressing to my teammates all week about how amazing of an opportunity this is,” she says. “We’ve talked about how we were picked to come in last in the preseason Ivy poll, and to use that as motivation to give it everything we have every day. All that matters is this weekend, and in order to win, 15 people have to bring their A-game. None of us can do this alone. It’s going to be all hands on deck and I’m so frigging excited!”

“I keep telling my teammates that my freshman year there was no such thing as an Ivy League tournament. So the fact that we let a few games get away from us earlier in the Ivy season but still have a chance is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Editor's Note: The Big Red women's basketball team defeated Dartmouth in Hanover, 57-47, on Saturday, March 9 to earn the program's first-ever trip to the Ivy League Women's Basketball Tournament.

Clement with her family and the Big Red coaching staff on Senior Night.

Credits:

Eldon Lindsay, Dave Burbank, Patrick Shanahan, Samantha Clement

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