INDIANAPOLIS – The objective is noble: raise funds to benefit kids at the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital and the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
The pull was simply too strong for Dallas Clark to ignore.
“Kids with illness, kids in this world just have a huge, huge place in my heart,’’ he said Thursday on a Zoom conference call.
Indy has been a home-away-from-home for Clark. The multi-sport standout at Twin River Valley High School in Bode, Iowa, and All-American tight end for the University of Iowa became an adopted Hoosier when the Indianapolis Colts selected him in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
He’s made several return visits since retiring after spending the 2013 season with the Baltimore Ravens, but they were more pleasure than business. If it wasn’t to participate in a ceremony for the Colts’ latest Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee (Marvin Harrison, Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James), it was for another Ring of Honor addition or for the 10-year anniversary of the franchise’s Super Bowl XLI championship.
“Enjoying the parties,’’ Clark said.
Not this time. It’s all business.
“It’s good to come back to town and make a difference this way,’’ he said.
Saturday, Clark will participate in the Indy Mini-Marathon. It’s the next step on his journey to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii for the Ironman World Championship triathlon in October.
His goal: raise $2 million for the two children’s hospitals as part of his Project44 campaign.
“It’s lofty,’’ Clark agreed.
When he first broached the subject with Manning, his former quarterback wondered if it was feasible to raise even $1 million.
Clark’s response to Manning?
I don’t know if I don’t try. Let’s do it. This race is insane so let’s do what we can do.
Clark affixed his bulls-eye on $2 million, and has been working toward putting himself in the best position possible to do his part.
(To donate to Clark’s campaign, check out: https://ironmanfoundation.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.Participant&participantID=2855)
He and his family – wife, two sons, one daughter – reside in Iowa. After 11 seasons in the NFL, the first nine with the Colts, Clark was spending his post-football life as an organic farmer before developing an itch to do, well, something else.
The decision to dive into the world of Ironman competition sprang from a seemingly casual conversation with a friend at an Iowa county fair in August.
Clark, 42, had stepped away from working out after retirement to give his body time to heal from the rigors of the NFL, but after nearly a year of down time his body told him it needed his attention.
“I got worse,’’ he said. “My body started hurting more. It was weird. It was different than what I thought my post-career was going to be. I’m not addicted to working out, but I feel fulfilled after I work out.
“I need it. I want it.’’
He lifted. He ran. He played some basketball.
Then his friend mentioned the possibility of Clark training to run a marathon.
“A marathon,’’ he insisted, “just wasn’t fulfilling enough. Then the Ironman just came into my head.’’
Clark began researching the sport. He noticed Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan also was into Ironman competitions. The two became friends while working out at St. Vincent Sports Performance during Clark’s offseasons with the Colts.
One thing led to another and Clark got in contact with Mark Allen, a six-time World Ironman champion.
“It just kind of snowballed,’’ he said. “Before I knew it, I had great coaching, great knowledge of the sport. Then I just got super excited about.
“It’s just a challenge: ‘I can do this. Let’s do this before I can’t do it anymore. I should do this.’’’
Clark’s intense and complicated training – try putting in serious miles on a bike during the winter months in Iowa – took him to Oceanside, Calif., in April for a half-Ironman event.
After competing in the Indy Mini-Marathon this weekend, there’s the World Championship in Hawaii.
No longer is Clark worried about exploiting a matchup against a smaller defensive back or slower linebacker, or trying to keep an edge pass rusher from crashing into Manning.
The Ironman competition is a grueling three-step test: a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike race followed by a 26.2-mile run.
“It’s like a tight-end race,’’ Clark said. “It’s not just a run, right? It’s swim, run, bike. That’s right up a tight end’s alley. I have to go block the big, ugly defensive ends then I have to go get open against the slow linebackers and safeties.’’
Kanaan has participated in the Hawaii event previously, and plans on competing again this year. He and Clark will be “partners.’’
“This guy is a freak,’’ Clark said. “It’ll be awesome to have him out there. At least he’ll know to look for me in the water if I’m struggling.’’
Clark has done as much as possible to prepare himself not only for the training for an Ironman competition, but the competition itself.
Sika Henry, the United States’ first Black female triathlete, attended the Oceanside event in April, although she didn’t compete. At one point, Clark had an opportunity spend time with her.
Henry offered support, and a warning.
“She motivated me,’’ Clark said, adding Henry convinced him “‘there’s something here.’’’
“She did Kona and said she’s never going to do that again,’’ Clark said with a smile. “She said it was terrible. That’s not what you want to hear.
“You never want to hear a professional athlete say she wanted to quit. ‘OK, and I’m choosing to do this.’’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.