Spring on the York College campus

Advocate for Recovery

Zac Clark stands in front of a tall building in an urban environment, looking up with a sense of inspiration as he wears a flannel zip-up over a t-shirt with the Release Recovery logo.

Zac Clark ’06 didn’t see his use of drugs and alcohol as addiction. “It was part of my identity,” he says. “I was a young guy. I liked to go to sporting events. I liked to have a good time. No one knew it was a problem until it was a problem.”

Though he majored in Sport Management at York College, Clark, now 36, runs addiction recovery centers in New York. He returned to his home in Manhattan recently with a whirlwind of newfound celebrity. On the 16th season of The Bachelorette, Clark fell for 30-year-old Tayshia Adams, and the two are now engaged. 

While he’s lost track of the number of interviews and photo opportunities his appearance on the show has led to, Clark finds himself most impressed with the amount of people who have reached out to his organization. Release Recovery, which he cofounded with Justin Gurland, became a place where Clark could combine his personal experience with his passion for helping others find sobriety.

“This platform that I had on the show is going to end up helping people,” he says. “On a micro level, we’ll be able to really help people recover. On a macro level, my hope is people will see me and hear my story and understand that recovery and sobriety is not a punishment…we get to live a beautiful existence.”

Clark started drinking, smoking marijuana, and experimenting with prescription drugs in high school. He often bought Adderall from girls who he knew had a prescription. He played several sports in high school and continued playing baseball when he came to York College. Even then, he says, he continued abusing alcohol and drugs.

“The way I was using alcohol then was not healthy or normal even though I thought it was,” he says. “It was starting to seep into other areas of my life—my performance on the field, my relationships, my ability to show up for class and whatever else was required of me.” 

In Clark’s early twenties, doctors found a brain tumor that they worked to quickly remove. Now, he says, he had a reason to go to doctors and get prescription painkillers. He didn’t have to hide it.

When he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, following a short stint in recovery, his marriage to a college sweetheart came to an end. “She set a firm boundary,” Clark says. “It was hard for her, I can’t imagine, but it saved my life. She was the first person who told me, ‘the party is over.’ ” 

In 2011, Clark went to a recovery facility called Caron in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. It was the toughest four months of his life, he says, but it changed his trajectory. It led him to starting Release Recovery several years later.

“There’s a lot of heartbreak and heartache in this life,” he says. “People you love who don’t get sober end up drunk, high or dead. We’ve seen too much of that over the years. But the greatest joy in my life is seeing someone early on in their journey and sticking with it. I get to see them get the new job, develop their relationship and get married, have children, and build their family.”

Clark remembers choosing to study Sport Management because he wanted to be a coach. Paul Saikia, the York College baseball coach who led the Spartans to three Capital Athletic Conference championships, and who is now Assistant Dean for Athletics and Recreation, instilled a sense of discipline in his players.

Clark still remembers having to head into Saikia’s office to write his name on the whiteboard to show that he was up early and starting his day with a workout. “His rules were: no excuses and be aggressive. Those are things I use in my life today,” Clark says. “I wish I recognized then the things he was trying to instill in us.”

Today, Clark sees himself as a coach for the people he helps through recovery. He believes his television fame will help him continue that mission, and he hopes his vulnerability helps them embark on their own road to sobriety.