Subscribe for 17¢ / day

More than 20 years have passed since Charles Stelk became a household name in the Quad-City track and field scene.

For those who don't remember the name, here’s a brief refresher:

The former standout hurdler, who graduated from Assumption High School in 1996, still holds records at the Davenport school in both the 100-meter and 400-meter events. After high school, Stelk, who stands at 6 feet, 5 inches, competed at the Division I level for Southern Illinois University, where he received all-conference honors in the Missouri Valley Conference three times.

Since his sprinting days, the 39-year-old Phoenix, Arizona-based physical therapist and race organizer has caught the long-distance running bug, and it won't quit.

“I haven’t missed a day of running in eight years,” he said this week during a phone interview.

On Sunday, the day after his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes football team fell 21-19 to fourth-ranked Penn State, Stelk arrived in Iowa City to prep for his takeover this weekend of Kinnick Stadium.

Hours before the Hawkeyes square off against Michigan State Saturday in East Lansing, Stelk will welcome 4,000-plus runners and walkers on the field at the 70,000-plus-seat venue in Iowa City during the Kickoff to Kinnick 5K Run/Walk.

This marks the fourth consecutive year of the charity event, which has raised $150,000 so far for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Stelk and fellow Davenport native Mitch Beckert, who launched the race together in 2014, hope to match that amount this year.

Beckert, a recent graduate of Iowa's medical school, currently is undergoing his residency at Indiana University. 

The chance to step onto the field draws first-time and repeat registrants alike, said Stelk, who noted more than half of them will walk the race. 

“It gives you a pretty accurate feeling of what it would be like to be on the field on game day,” Stelk said. 

As they finish the race, they will see themselves on the stadium's Jumbotron. They also will be asked to wave to patients and their families at the nearby children's hospital, a ritual started at games this season by Hawkeye players and fans.

The popular interaction takes place after the first quarter.

When the new 14-floor children’s hospital opened earlier this year, a patient room — one of 130 in the building — on the sixth floor in the neonatal intensive care unit was dedicated to Kickoff to Kinnick.

"It's my opportunity to give back a significant amount of money that I otherwise wouldn't be able to do," said Stelk, who received his master’s degree in physical therapy at the University of Iowa in 2002. 

This year's post-race tailgate-style party will feature live music, free drinks and food.

In the coming years, Stelk predicts the race will outgrow all others in Iowa.

"I really think this is a 10,000-person race in the future," he continued. 

By comparison, about 12,600 runners and walkers participated in the 2017 Quad-City Times Bix 7.

Under his side business, Stickman Race Group, Stelk owns the rights to six races and manages five more. In 2013, he and Tim O'Neill, the head boys and girls track and field coach at Assumption, founded the Easter Egg Scramble in the Village of East Davenport.

As high school teammates, O'Neill gave the rangy Stelk his nickname, "Stickman."


Jack Cullen covers health, wellness and outdoor recreation for the Quad-City Times.