Outdoor loving triathlete moves on to Ironman

February 14, 2012
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Even though he didn’t run track or cross country in high school, Eric Starck is headed to Kona, Hawaii, in October to participate in the 2012 Ironman World Championship. He won the right to compete against the planet’s best at a qualifying meet in Wisconsin last September, where he finished 30th in a field of 2,797.

Starck swam 2.4 miles, ran 26.2 miles and bicycled 112 miles in 10:04:43 at that event, an accomplishment most attorneys — and just about everyone else — can only dream of.

“It started with triathlons. Ironman is a triathlon, but triathlons come in all different sizes. When we moved to East Grand Rapids from Pittsburgh, we lived on Lake Drive, and it was a Saturday one September when all kinds of people were going by our house on bikes and running,” said Starck, a shareholder at Rhoades McKee PC and chairman of the firm’s Real Estate Practice Group.

“I didn’t know anything about triathlons at the time, and then I realized this was the Reeds Lake Triathlon — which now Rhoades McKee sponsors, by the way — and that’s what initially piqued my interest. And I said, ‘That’s a challenge that I’m going to do next year.’”

Since becoming aware of that triathlon in 2001, Starck has competed in three Ironmans and 50 triathlons. He also ran in the Boston Marathon in 2006.

“After that one, I was hooked,” he said of participating in the 2002 Reeds Lake Triathlon. “And over the years, I’ve been upping the ante and upping the distance and making myself more and more miserable,” he said, laughing.

Since joining Rhoades McKee about 11 years ago, Starck has had a successful career. He was named one of the state’s top 20 up-and-coming lawyers in 2009 by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, and Super Lawyers Magazine characterized him as a rising star in the field of real estate law. Then the Commercial Alliance of Realtors of West Michigan named him its Member of the Year in 2010.

“I’m happy to give back to the real-estate community, and it’s great when people acknowledge your hard work. It’s a very nice award, but by no means am I in it for that,” he said.

As for the biggest break he has had in his stellar career, Starck said it directly relates to marrying Sarah in 1999. Sarah is a Grand Rapids native and her grandparents were neighbors of Ed Goodrich, a corporate and tax law attorney and a senior partner at Rhoades McKee.

“He kind of gave me the benefit of the doubt because he knew my wife’s grandparents,” said Starck of Goodrich. “At the time, we were in Pennsylvania and looking to come to Grand Rapids, and it’s not easy to make a connection from there to Grand Rapids to find a job.”

That connection led to Starck receiving an interview at the local firm and resulted in him joining Rhoades McKee in 2001, right after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Prior to law school, Starck earned undergraduate degrees in Spanish and political science from Western Michigan University.

How did a college grad with a seemingly unrelated double major decide to pursue a juris doctorate and make commercial real estate law his specialty?

“That came from the political science side. Going into undergrad, I always knew I wanted to do something in the legal field, but I didn’t know what. In probably my third year as an undergrad, I kind of set my sights on law school,” he said.

“I’ve been interested in real property really for my entire life. I don’t know how or why that came about; I’m just kind of wired that way. Anything having to do with the outdoors, I enjoy. I’m also interested in private property rights, and there was no event that caused that,” he added.

Starck was born in Lansing but was raised about 20 miles north in St. Johns. He, Sarah, and their three children — Ethan, Luke and Olive — live in Grand Rapids. He and Sarah both were attending WMU when they went on a blind date. Unlike many of the outcomes following what is often an uncomfortable situation, they hit it off.

Eric Starck
Rhoades McKee PC
Title: Shareholder and chairman of the real estate practice group
Age: 36
Birthplace: Lansing, but raised in St. Johns
Residence: Grand Rapids
Family: Wife, Sarah; children Ethan, Luke and Olive
Business/Community Organizations: Grand Rapids Bar Association, State Bar of Michigan, Commercial Alliance of Realtors, Schrems West Michigan Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Blink Multisport.
Biggest Career Break: Marrying Sarah, whose grandparents were close friends of a senior partner at Rhoades McKee.

“We dated for maybe three months, and then I went to Europe for a few months, which made it difficult to sustain the relationship. But then we were able to rekindle it when I came back,” he said.

Besides being a mother of three youngsters, Sarah also owns a business that she started about seven years ago with her close friend and a fellow mother, Heather Hoexum. They run the business, called PunkyBlue, from their homes.

“We both wanted to do something creative but also wanted to stay home with our children, and PunkyBlue came to be,” she said. It all began with creating a diaper bag, followed by baby blankets, children’s clothing and a line of other types of bags. The website, shoppunkyblue.com currently is being redesigned.

“It’s a very successful business here in town,” said Eric. “They’ve got quite a following.”

In his spare time when he isn’t working or training, Starck likes to go out to dinner and for a night on the town with Sarah. He reads and fishes to relax, and also cross-country skis and snowboards in the winter. He said he isn’t disappointed with the lack of snow this winter because the mild weather has given him more opportunities to run. “I’ve been able to run outside more than I ever have. It all balances out,” he said.

Starck is a member of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan, CAR — and the Schrems West Michigan Chapter of Trout Unlimited. In fact, he once was president of the latter, which numbered about 800 members at the time.

“The organization is dedicated to preserving cold water or trout fisheries in West Michigan. You’d be surprised at how many people are passionate about their trout waters. The organization responds to any pollution issues that may arise in a trout stream,” he said.

Starck also was a co-founder of Blink Multisport in 2005 and he remains a board member of the group, which features running teams that raise funds for charities.

“Every member is required to donate to a specific charity, and we’ve been going strong ever since 2005. It has turned into way more than we ever thought it was going to. Our membership numbers vary between 60 and 90,” he said. Just one of the charities Blink members support is the Grand Rapids Wheelchair Sports Association.

As for his immediate future, Starck likely will begin to increase his training regimen in June for the ultimate Ironman competition in October: He expects to run about 50 miles and bike about 250 miles each week until he heads to Hawaii. Other than that, he doesn’t envision a lot of changes on the horizon.

“No significant changes, personally,” he said. “Professionally, I don’t see a lot of change. I’ll just continue to work hard and try to be a good lawyer. But nothing significantly is going to change for me in the next year if I have my way.”

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