Known as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and for the powerful talk she delivered at the latest local TEDx event, Kat Clark has been through a lot.

A freak accident while playing soccer put her right back into a dark place, but she's come back strong and tells Annemarie Quill that she's a boxer now.

Born in Russia as Ekaterina Ivanova Popovskya, Kat moved around orphanages until she was adopted by her Kiwi parents at the age of four and came to New Zealand. Here in the Bay, she enjoyed a childhood filled with happy memories of beach life, soccer, and the love of her supportive family.

Although that sounds idyllic, Kat's journey has been far from easy. She has lived through self-harm, a suicide attempt, and recently had to deal with a horrific injury that put her life on hold for a while.

"In July 2018, I was in a freak accident playing soccer. I was running, got slide tackled, and it wiped me out. My foot got dislocated and was facing the other way. The ankle bone had ripped out, and all three ligaments that hold it together were torn," Kat says.

She says that at first, she couldn't feel anything but cold.

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"We still don't know what happened. It wasn't even a hard tackle. The first thing I asked was if I still had my foot. I knew that something wasn't connecting."

Later in hospital, it became clear that there was no pulse in her foot for about two hours. It had essentially died.

"I remember lying on the bed, but had my eyes shut the whole time. I had the weirdest feeling, like being frozen. I think that was when they reattached the ankle. Everything was numb. I must have been in shock," she says.

What followed was a long journey of recovery.

"At the time, I was training for the police but that had to be put on hold. I nearly stopped studying, too. I was about to go into my final placement at Oranga Tamariki and I almost gave up, but something told me to keep going," she says.

Kat went to the placement in a moon boot and she graduated in June last year with a Bachelor of Social Work degree. Now she works as the Waikato Students' Union representative at the University of Waikato Tauranga Campus.

"I'm in charge of advocacy, which means dealing with issues such as mental health, domestic violence, but also study related things. I support students that need it, and I love the work," she says

I remember lying on the bed, but had my eyes shut the whole time. I had the weirdest feeling, like being frozen.

Although her life is back on track, the accident was huge for Kat. She had to learn how to walk again and couldn't drive. She spent her days reflecting and was mostly alone.

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"It was tough having to rely on people for everything. Getting pushed around in a wheelchair was humiliating. After that, I got a knee scooter. When the lift was broken, I had to go down six flights of stairs on my bum. You don't realise what it is like until you're in that situation," she says.

Ever since the accident, Kat has been boxing. She says it is great for mental health.

"I realised I can't play soccer anymore. I'll always have to be cautious of my foot and can't afford to roll it. I have replaced soccer with boxing, and I think that is what keeps me positive," she says.

Kat has teamed up with personal trainer Alice Perry and taken on a fight challenge. She has three sessions a week with Alice, two boxing sessions and one PT, plus her regular workouts in the gym.

Kat Clarke (left) with personal trainer Alice Perry . Photo/ Patrick Neale
Kat Clarke (left) with personal trainer Alice Perry . Photo/ Patrick Neale

"Alice has good vibes. I went to a workshop with her and got out in nature and did yoga. It was great. We touched on mental health challenges, as she's also been through a lot in her life," Kat says.

Kat and Alice first met a few years ago when they studied together for a term, but they didn't connect until later.

Kat Clarke doing pad work with personal trainer Alice Perry. Photo/ Patrick Neale
Kat Clarke doing pad work with personal trainer Alice Perry. Photo/ Patrick Neale

"I found out on social media about Kat's accident and we ended up chatting, about mental health and some of the issues we've both dealt with, but also about her goals. I knew boxing was one of her interests, and it's great to now work with her," Alice says.

Alice has been through a huge journey with mental health herself. This along with other issues have resulted in complex PTSD.(post-traumatic stress disorder).

"At the time, I was feeling mentally drained and was in a dark place. I was unhealthy and starving myself trying to lose weight. I wanted to break down the barriers and gain some power back. Let go of the trauma and anger I was holding onto," she says.

Now in a much better place and a loving marriage, she has started her business Wellness with Alice, helping others gain confidence and strength to rebuild their lives though mind and body transformation programmes and alternative medicine.

"I'm inspired by Kat, and anyone that knows what it's like to hit rock bottom then rebuild their vision and dreams. In that situation, it's make or break, and that's huge. People like
Kat who have the drive and motivation to make things better is what inspires me," Alice says.

"I am so proud of Kat now that I have learned her story. She just makes everything positive, and that's the type of woman I love connecting with."

Kat asked Alice to be her coach as she wanted something peaceful rather than overwhelming.

"I believe in Alice's kaupapa. I can cry with her and carry on. I'm doing this for my recovery," she says.

"I'm a boxer now. This is my journey from nearly losing my foot to getting in the boxing ring. I'll probably have my rainbow flag on me when I walk out. It's all about being proud."

Kat Clarke says boxing has played a key part in her recovery. Photo/ Patrick Neale
Kat Clarke says boxing has played a key part in her recovery. Photo/ Patrick Neale

Kat has been advocating for the LGBTQ+ community for five years, and although the attitude has changed for the better since then, she still faces discrimination, mainly from keyboard warriors.

"They still tell me I'll go to hell," she laughs.

Kat is behind the Rainbow Corner at the campus, and facilitates a social group called Parents with Pryde at CBK on Spring Street each last Wednesday of each month.

"It's a social group, not a counselling session. Just a safe place for parents of mainly transgender kids where they can just chillax or have a rant if they like," she says.

Kat Clarke Photo/Patrick Neale
Kat Clarke Photo/Patrick Neale

Kat is also in talks with David Lomas from the TV show Lost and Found and is planning to go back to Russia with him to visit orphanages and hopefully find her siblings.

"I applied a few years ago and David has kept in touch. We've got a lead and that's why he wants to do the story. Homophobia is a huge issue in Russia, but I'm ready to go back with pride," she says.

"I'll finally find out where I come from.

Where to get help •

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7) • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7) • Youth services: (06) 3555 906 • Youthline: 0800 376 633 • Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7) • Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm) • Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7) • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 • CASPER Suicide Prevention If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.