Coach Bree Kelley and Autumn Fortney

Clarion alumna Autumn Fortney ’22 wants students to know that even if there are obstacles in your life, Clarion has learning options and supportive employees who are willing to help you achieve your goals.

She knows this firsthand.

Just before her junior year, Fortney discovered she was pregnant with her son, Layne. A swimmer for Clarion, she stopped competing during her pregnancy, but she continued taking classes. She took in-person classes during the fall semester and online classes in the spring.

She hoped she would compete as a swimmer again.

“I didn’t plan to stop swimming. It was just a bump in the road for me,” she said of her pregnancy’s impact on her sport.

And come back she did. In her senior year, Fortney was a scholar-athlete, a top point scorer and a six-time PSAC finalist, as well as a Top 8 performer.

She had some of her best swim times at a competition in Akron, Ohio.

Fortney credits coach Brehan Kelley with her ability to return by retaining her scholarship, helping her develop an accommodating workout schedule, and reinforcing a team mentality among all swimmers.

“It is absolutely incredible and very unheard of to not only come back and compete, but to manage it all really well with a baby,” Kelley said.

Kelley supported Fortney, but so did Fortney’s parents and her friends, many of whom are teammates.

“They’re my best friends,” Fortney said of her fellow swimmers.

After Fortney told Kelley she wished to return, Kelley swam into high gear by helping her find daycare.

Kelley then developed a summer workout plan for Fortney that included walks with the baby, HIIT workouts and anything else she could fit in to get her back to pre-baby athlete status. Fortney said breastfeeding helped herget back into shape as well.

“She worked so hard. She did the work. She made sacrifices, she juggled it all. She communicated with me about everything that summer and school year. I made accommodations based on the daycare schedule, class schedule, etc. We worked out a different plan for her for certain aspects of her training,” Kelley said.

Fortney knew she could do it. “I had been an athlete since I was 4. I just wanted to try.”

When she returned to competition, it felt like she had never left.

“She is a very committed and disciplined individual. She has great family support, and they were very encouraging to her when she said she wanted to finish her college degree and swim,” Kelley said.

Fortney said it’s important to ignore anyone who wants you to fail, because they don’t matter. “I had already gone through adversity,” she said.

She advises students to focus on their goals. “I didn’t think I had many limitations,” Fortney said.

Now, Fortney has a great deal to show for her hard work and determination, including a Bachelor of Science degree in health and human services with a major in criminal justice and a minor in social work, a job at Justice Works Youth Care on Grant Street, and a healthy baby boy.

“I am so proud of her resilience and persevering through what some would consider a setback or even impossible,” Kelley said.