Period of transition

For Dallas Clark, patience has always been a virtue.

When the Twin River Valley graduate and former Iowa Hawkeye All-American finds himself fighting the competitive spirit from his past, the motivation to move forward isn’t far away.

It just takes time. And more patience.

Make no mistake: Clark is ultimately at peace with his decision to retire from the NFL this past summer. He knows he made the right choice at the age of 35, saying ”I’m exactly where I need to be now.”

The 2007 Super Bowl champion and ’09 Pro Bowler has no regrets. But the transition to ”a new normal” hasn’t been seamless for Clark.

”You really run the gamut of emotions when you’re out from the game for the first time – especially during the season,” Clark said of this past year, which was his first away from professional football since 2003. ”There is excitement, anxiety, satisfaction, uncertainty and everything in between.

”You’ll see a tight end make a play and think, ‘I could still do that.’ Then you watch the same guy go over the middle and get blasted, and you breathe a sigh of relief that it isn’t you. It almost becomes surreal when you’re on the outside looking in, to the point where you ask yourself, ‘was that really me for all those years?”’

The mixed feelings are common among recently-retired professional athletes, Clark continued.

”I consider myself to be pretty down to earth, but it’s not easy to just drop everything overnight and move on from a game that has defined you for this long,” Clark admitted. ”There is a void. You play with an edge, an attitude, an aura of invincibility. And when that’s gone, the natural tendency is to ask yourself, ‘how do I fill that void?’

”Fortunately, I have the family and the support system to keep me grounded. They are there for me unconditionally. But if that’s missing, I can see why it could be a tremendous challenge to find your way in the real world again.”

Clark also explained the mental hurdle of becoming ”a regular guy” again.

”You don’t ever want to be known as just a football player, but society has a way of making you feel like you’re on a pedestal when you are at your peak,” Clark said. ”And then when you’re done, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been torn down and forgotten – almost discarded.

”From a physical standpoint, I am lucky to feel the way I do. But mentally speaking, there are times when it’s been hard to let go. There’s a big difference when you go from saying ‘I’m Dallas Clark and I play football’ to ‘I’m Dallas Clark and I used to play football.”’

Clark and his wife, Karen, have two boys and a newborn girl. When they move back to the area later this year, he will keep busy with his business, the Train Wreck Winery of Algona, and his philanthropic institution, the Dallas Clark Foundation.

His main investment, though, will be in the youth of north-central Iowa.

”I just want to be visible and help get kids as active as possible,” Clark said. ”Now that I’m a dad especially, I see the importance of encouraging them to become involved and avoid the distractions that might keep them from participating. These days, there are plenty.

”I’m very fortunate to have my health and not worry about the things that tend to plague (former NFL players). Family, friends and the future (of the area): those are my priorities now. And I’m more ready by the day.”

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net