Going all in on race business

HASTINGS, Minn. -- For about two weeks as a student at Hastings Middle School, John Storkamp raced with the school's cross country team. But when school officials caught him with drugs, coaches kicked him off the team, and it looked like that wou...

John Storkamp in the Iditarod Trail Invitational
John Storkamp of Hastings, Minn., is pictured competing in the 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska in March 2013. He completed the race in seven days. He’s now featured in a new film about the Arrowhead 135 endurance race in northern Minnesota. (Submitted photo)

HASTINGS, Minn. - For about two weeks as a student at Hastings Middle School, John Storkamp raced with the school’s cross country team.
But when school officials caught him with drugs, coaches kicked him off the team, and it looked like that would be the end of his running career. Within a few years, Storkamp found himself as a homeless drug- and alcohol-addicted teen on the streets of New York City. Years later, though, it was running that would turn Storkamp’s life around forever.
He got clean at age 15, ran his first marathon at age 16 and has since run 88 more races at marathon length or longer, including the Arrowhead 135 endurance race from International Falls to Tower, and the 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational during the Alaskan winter.
Now 35 and sober for 20 years, Storkamp is going all in on his race business, Rocksteady Running. He organizes and promotes several high-profile trail runs across the state - including in the Northland - and is beginning his own clothing line.
For his mother, Sue Ryan of Hastings, the contrast between teenage John and today’s John is nothing short of astounding.
“Sometimes it hits me harder now, reading about young people who are dead because of what they went through - they didn’t survive it,” she said. “At the time, it crosses your mind, but now you look back and you’re like, ‘How did he survive all that?’
“I would lose 10 pounds, just up day and night, worrying about the kid.”
The factors that prompted Storkamp to take the dark path he did are many. More than anything, Storkamp remembers the path being a fast one.
“I spiraled out of control very quickly,” he said.
He’d get treatment, come home, run away, use drugs, come home, get treatment and run away again. That cycle continued for years. During one of those times in treatment, Storkamp made a friend who lived in New York City. After getting out of treatment, Storkamp boarded a Greyhound bus and took it all the way to New York City. He was 14 years old. Posters were plastered all over the area as his mother and stepfather, Joe Ryan, frantically searched for him.
“It was obviously not a very happy time,” Storkamp said. “I was pretty miserable.”
He’d spend time with his friend in the city. He’d sleep on the streets. Finally, his parents found him. The Ryans, though, were done with the act. They sent him to live with his uncle, Richard Gruber, in Stillwater. That’s where Storkamp began to turn his life around.
“I was just ready to not do all that anymore,” he said.
While living in Stillwater, his uncle had a large-scale landscaping project that had to be done. Storkamp got busy on that, hauling landscaping rock all over the place and splitting wood.
“I realized that work made me feel pretty good,” he said.
Storkamp started mountain biking, weightlifting and skateboarding more. Eventually he turned to running with a friend, Dan Siebenaler. They hit the road together and soon, Storkamp was training for his first marathon - the Twin Cities Marathon in 1996. Nowadays, marathons are among the shorter races he does.
In March 2013 he raced in the 350-mile event of the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a winter endurance race held on the same course as the famed sled dog race, just one week earlier. He covered about 50 miles a day, finishing in the middle of the pack. During the race, athletes are self-supported. They carry their own survival gear in a sled they tow behind themselves and brave 20-below-zero conditions.
His mother said she finally got to the point where she just decided to no longer worry about her son when he does events like that.
“I got over worrying about him,” she said. “There were times I was so worried, I’d make myself sick. I thought, ‘You know, he’s an adult.’ He knows what he’s doing and he loves it.”
Closer to home, Storkamp is a three-time winner of the Arrowhead 135. That race, too, is self-supported and run during the winter. It’s his success in that race that prompted a film crew from Adventure Films in Minnesota to feature him in a new film, “Among the Wild,” which premiered last month in Minneapolis and will be shown in Duluth next week.
Storkamp hasn’t given up road races, though. In recent years he won a 50-mile road race ultramarathon with a time of just 6 hours, 4 minutes.
Training for those races requires more than a quick workout every day. Initially Storkamp remained busy working countless hours in construction management, holding down life at home with his wife, Cheri, and being a father to his 16-year-old daughter, Emma. And as if all that wasn’t enough, he started promoting races several years ago, too - including the spring and fall Superior Trail Races on the North Shore.
It got to the point where something had to change. Two years ago, he decided to quit his full-time job. He and Cheri decided to rent out their Hastings home and move in with his parents to go all-in on the races, with the business called Rocksteady Running.
Now, the move appears to be paying off. The Storkamps are remodeling their home and preparing to move back in as the race series has grown and an accompanying clothing line is about to really take off.
Twenty-some years ago, Storkamp would create drawings in a notebook. Now, he leafs through those notebooks, scans in an image, gets to work behind a monitor and turns those sketches into elaborate designs that grace the race shirts competitors get when they sign up for an event. The shirts have been so popular that the brand is growing and a clothing line is in the works.
Storkamp’s Facebook wall is plastered with stories from people across the region whose lives he has positively affected. For many years, he spoke twice a month to addicts at the detox center in Hastings. These days, about once a month, someone reaches out to him via social media to talk about battling drugs and running.
“He does reach out to people with chemical dependency problems,” Sue Ryan said. “He’s a good example for other young people.”

About the film

“Among the Wild: The Arrowhead 135” is a 30-minute film featuring three competitors in the 2012 Arrowhead 135 race, including John Storkamp, who raced on foot. The other featured competitors are a biker and a cross-country skier.
The makers of the film are hoping to get the film featured at the Banff Mountain Film Festival and during adventure-related seminars and expos.
It will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday at Zinema 2 in Duluth, including a Q&A with the filmmakers and veteran Arrowhead 135 racers.
Read more about the film at

Rocksteady Running

Over time, John Storkamp became involved in organizing races with friends. One friend ran a few trail races northeast of Duluth on the Superior Hiking Trail. When that friend backed away from the work, Storkamp jumped in and took over. At about the same time, a similar scenario played out with a race at Afton State Park - the Afton Trail Run. Before long, by about 2008, Storkamp was organizing four big races - the Zumbro Endurance Run every April near Theilman, Minn.; the Superior “Spring” Trail Races in May at Lutsen; the Afton Trail Run in early July; and the Superior “Fall” Trail Races in September, also at Lutsen. His business is called Rocksteady Running.
In addition, Storkamp runs the smaller-scale Endless Summer Trail Run Series on four weeknights in the summer at parks across the Twin Cities metro area.


John Storkamp and his daughter, Emma
John Storkamp and his daughter, Emma, pose for a photo. Submitted photo

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