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Colts legend Dallas Clark completes Ironman for great cause
Dallas Clark competes on the bike during the IRONMAN World Championships on October 8, 2022 in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. (Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

Colts legend Dallas Clark completes Ironman for great cause

INDIANAPOLIS (BVM) – Former Indianapolis Colts tight end and Super Bowl champion Dallas Clark knows what it feels like to physically push your body to the brink. A first-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, Clark caught 505 passes for 5,665 yards and 53 touchdowns across 11 seasons in the NFL.

But since retiring from football in 2014, Clark has taken it easy. He’s moved back to Iowa and turned the family farm – which has been in the Clark family for over 100 years – into an organic one. Clark thoroughly enjoys farming, particularly passing it down to his three children, but it’s not the passion that has kept him going since walking away from football. 

“My passion really is to be aware of opportunities to make a difference,” Clark said. “The philanthropy world is kind of where I get fired up and helping people who can’t help themselves.” 

Clark recently had a unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many, but it didn’t come without plenty of work. It began with the idea of a marathon during a week when Clark felt unusually unmotivated to work out. 

“Then I was thinking, ‘Anyone can do a marathon,’” Clark remembers saying facetiously. 

That led to Clark pivoting towards the idea of an Ironman, a two-day triathlon that includes swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running another 26.2 miles. Clark then reached out to a friend – Tony Cannon, who has competed in multiple Ironman events over the years – for advice. 

“So, I reached out to him (Cannon) and I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m thinking about doing the Ironman. What should I expect?’” Clark remembers asking. “He said, ‘are you ready to die?’ and I’m like ‘absolutely, let’s do this.’” 

Clark decided that if he was going to do it, he’d go big. That meant that the 2022 VinFast Ironman World Championship in Hawaii would be the event of choice. Clark quickly found out that participation in the 140.6-mile journey was by qualification only. 

Enter Clark’s post-football passion: making a difference. With a goal of raising $1 million for the Indianapolis-based Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital and University of Iowa Stead Children’s Hospital, Clark’s entry to the legendary course was set. 

“That was kind of my drive,” Clark said. “If I’m going to take this much time away from family, I can’t just do it for me; someone else has to benefit. 

“It’s one of those things where I feel bad because this is a dream,” Clark said of what’s known as the pinnacle of the triathlon landscape and an iconic, global sporting event. “I lived someone’s dream. So, I need to make sure that people realize that it wasn’t taken for granted and it was for a great cause.” 

Clark’s training for the Ironman began in November and he said the drastic difference between that and his lifelong football preparation was a difficult transition. The former Iowa Hawkeyes star hadn’t done a marathon, triathlon, 5k or anything of the sort which led to his participation in the Hollywood Beach Half Marathon in Oceanside, California on April 2 to prepare.   

The event was a huge confidence booster for Clark, he said, but also an eye-opening experience. 

“For a 230-pound, ex-football player, I stuck out like a bull in a China shop,” Clark said. “I was like, ‘OK, you guys (marathon athletes) are built differently and have different transmissions in your engine than I do.” 

After nearly a full year of preparation for the Ironman – including driving 20 miles daily to the nearest pool for swimming training – Clark made it to Kona on October 6 for the experience of a lifetime. The course takes athletes through Hawaii’s barren lava fields and Clark finished the two-day triathlon with a final time of 13 hours, 15 minutes and 40 seconds. 

Greeted by his three children at the finish line, Clark became filled with emotions: physical and emotional exhaustion, gratitude and pride. 

“It’s a lot and that’s all compounded when you cross that finish line, just the work and commitment that it takes,” Clark said. “Just to share that special stage with the pros and all the other great athletes and not embarrass myself was special. It was such an honor to kind of rub elbows with them and share their world with them a little bit. 

“I certainly enjoyed the heck out of it. I knew it was going to be good, I knew it was going to be fun, but it blew the top off; it was incredible.” 

After earning a John Mackey Award (presented to college football’s most outstanding tight end), a Pro Bowl selection, an All-Pro nod and a Super Bowl ring, among other things, Clark can now add an Ironman triathlon to his list of accomplishments. 

Tied for the 12th-most touchdowns (55) by a tight end in NFL history, Clark knows what it takes to be elite at one of the sport’s most versatile positions. However, the former NFL Alumni Tight End of the Year (2009) is still amazed at how the next generation of tight ends continues to evolve. 

Dallas Clark Indianapolis Colts tight end
Clark finished his NFL career with over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns after playing most of his career with the Colts. (Credit: Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports)

Sunday was National Tight Ends Day and it saw some of the league’s best at the position, Travis Kelce and George Kittle, have big days catching the football like Clark used to for the Colts. In fact, Clark was invited to Tight End University (TEU) by Kittle this summer and couldn’t believe what he saw. 

“I went to TEU this summer with my boys, got invited over there with George (Kittle), and watching these guys get off the bus, you’d think I was a trainer on this bus,” Clark said. “These tight ends are freaks. I have a lot of admiration and respect for these dudes. 

“I think that position has undergone the biggest transformation in football. They have to do everything now and the great ones can.” 

If anybody is qualified to speak on the qualities of a great tight end, it’s Clark, and if there’s anybody who can turn a week of inactivity into nearly $1 million for children’s hospitals, it’s also the Colts legend. 

“I think we all can look back at that adult – whether it was a teacher, parent, family member, friend or whatever – that believed in us or saw something bigger for us,” Clark said. “To be that for someone else, that stuff is priceless.”