Conway native talks chamber job, cancer

Ed Linck, chief operating officer for the Conway Area Chamber..

Conway native talks chamber job, cancer

Ed Linck, chief operating officer for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, left the city in 1997 to play college baseball and earn a business degree. Linck, who is married and has a 1-year-old daughter, also worked at the Little Rock and Irvine, Calif., chambers of commerce. He was diagnosed in October with a type of leukemia, but he said it’s controlled with medication. “I feel great,” he said.

Ed Linck had the best and worst year of his life in 2016.

The 38-year-old had the highs of becoming a father and getting hired at the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce. The low point was being diagnosed with cancer.

“It’s been pretty wild,” he said.

Spoiler alert — his cancer, chronic myeloid leukemia, is being controlled well with four pills a day.

Linck, who started in January 2016 as chief operating officer for the chamber, is back home in Conway after leaving the city in 1997. He attended Connor State College in Warner, Oklahoma, on a baseball scholarship. Then he went to Northwestern State University in Louisiana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business and helped the baseball team win two Southland Conference championships.

He said his goal — the same since he was 8 years old — was to be shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. Although he didn’t become a Major League player, he had a brush with one. He played in a summer league on the Hays Larks team in Kansas with a little-known guy named Albert Pujols, “who turned into one of the great hitters of all times,” Linck said. Linck batted fifth in the lineup, right behind the future St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Angels player. “He hit more home runs,” Linck said.

Because he was an athlete, Linck figured he’d tie his business degree in with a sports-related career. Straight out of college, he lived in hotels and traveled Alabama and Illinois selling gym memberships. It didn’t take him long to figure out that living in hotel rooms wasn’t the lifestyle he wanted.

Living on a houseboat, however, was fine. His father and stepmother sold their home and lived on a houseboat, and his dad bought a 1968 boat that Linck lived on after college for five years on the Arkansas River in Little Rock. “It was a tank,” he said, laughing at the memory. “We fixed up the guts of the boat, but we never painted it. It looked horrible.”

While he lived there, he sold insurance for 2 1/2 years.

“That’s when things really starting taking off,” he said of that period of his life.

In 2003, he helped create the Arkansas Young Professionals Network, a nonprofit organization, and he was involved in Rotary Club. A couple of years later, he started the Next Generation Young Professionals through the North Little Rock Chamber.

It was through a Rotary group-study exchange that he spent a month in Norway that changed his way of thinking about life.

“Everybody there seemed to be happy,” he said. “They worked 8 to 4 and didn’t care about work afterward. I’m working long hours on a 100 percent commission job. I said, ‘I’m going to go find another career.’”

He landed a job at Eagle Bank as business development officer, but he was there less than a year.

“Looking back, that was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had,” Linck said.

However, he said Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional

Chamber of Commerce, asked him to become director of membership.

“I thought, ‘I can’t pass this up,’” Linck said.

He left the chamber to work as director of sales and marketing for a company in North Little Rock, and one of his clients was Target. He took a good job at the Target Distribution Center in Maumelle, and when that closed, he transferred to Rialto, California, to work for Target.

“I’d never been to California; I’d just seen it on TV,” he said. Still young and single, he figured, “Why not?”

After working a while at Target, he got a job at the Irvine (California) Chamber of Commerce.

Linck said it was amazing to meet the entrepreneurs there who have been extremely successful.

“The diversity there — my gosh, every country is represented,” he said.

He was in California just over seven years, and he said he loved it. When he wasn’t working, Linck said, he played beach volleyball and went sailing.

He met his wife, Mariana, while living there, too, on the dating website Match.com.

“She’s the smartest person I ever met,” Linck said. Mariana, who was principal engineer at Medtronic, a medical-device company, has a doctorate in materials engineering. She was also Miss Washington and Miss Arizona, and her talent was playing violin.

The couple met and dated briefly, and four years later, he called her out of the blue. Their first date the second time around was as part of a running club; then they ate tacos and talked for hours after the run.

“The stars aligned,” he said, and they celebrated their two-year anniversary last week.

Mariana was pregnant in September 2015, and it changed everything.

“I said, ‘We’re never leaving California.’ It was awesome there,” he said. “Then we went to the doctor and heard that heartbeat for the very first time, and I said, ‘Maybe we should think about moving near family.’”

Her parents live in San Antonio, Texas, and she has a sister in Boston, but she has cousins in Little Rock. The couple decided to move to his hometown, and he said his wife was impressed with Conway on their first visit.

“She loved downtown Conway; she loved it,” he said.

Linck said he made contact with people he’d known when he was in Little Rock, and Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the Conway Chamber, was one of those. It just so happened that the chamber was looking for a chief operating officer, and Linck needed to start in January, which was immediately.

The trip to Arkansas was not a lot of fun, Linck recalled. It involved a three-day drive across the country in a U-Haul with his wife, who was 4 1/2 months pregnant.

“We had a flat tire; sparks were flying,” he said. Not sparks of anger, but the rim of the wheel hitting the asphalt.

But they made it, and he started his new job Jan. 4, 2016, the day after they arrived in Conway.

Their daughter, Catalina, was born May 10, 2016, named after Catalina Island, where the couple sailed with Ed at the helm. He was glad to have family nearby when she was born. He said his 96-year-old grandfather, John Green of Conway, was the first person to hold Catalina.

When Catalina was about 4 1/2 months old, Linck said, he noticed that he had begun feeling exhausted. He could no longer outlast his brother, Preston, in tennis. Linck had to take two-hour naps after work, and he sometimes would wake up with blurry vision. He also had headaches, which he attributed to being dehydrated, and he had trouble breathing deeply when he was on his back.

Linck, who had always been in shape, said he was lying on the ground “just dying” after a Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center class. He said he couldn’t understand how everyone else just “skipped off” afterward.

In October, right after he turned 38, his wife insisted that he go to the doctor. The doctor found a mass in his abdomen and ran blood tests. That night, as they were putting Catalina to bed, the doctor called and told Linck to go immediately to the emergency room. He and his wife were scared.

“We looked at each other in the kitchen; it was very emotional. But we were strong. We knew we were going to get through this,” he said.

Several of his family members met the couple at the emergency room, and the doctor confirmed that Linck had cancer, although he did not know the specific kind.

“That’ll make your heart sick,” Linck said. “I’m looking at Mariana and Catalina thinking, ‘What’s next? Am I on a time clock? How much time is on this clock?’”

When the diagnosis of CML was made, Linck said one doctor told him, “If I had to have cancer, I would want CML because it’s so treatable.”

Linck takes two pills twice a day.

“Within six months, my numbers were stable and good,” he said.

He’s the American Cancer Society’s 2017 Conway Celebrity Waiter Lip Sync for Life survivor honoree.

Linck said he eats more healthily and exercises more. Now when he works out in a class called The Grind, “I’m not literally dying,” he said, laughing.

Linck said this year versus last year, when he struggled with exhaustion, he has done so much more in his position at the chamber.

He oversees all chamber events and works on membership with Lindsey Henderson, chief revenue officer. Linck, Lacy, Henderson and Jamie Gates, executive vice president, started Outlook Conway, which brings in a speaker on an issue that’s driving the city’s economy.

“It’s been very successful,” Linck said.

“The success of our events, the impact we have on the community and the leadership is nothing like I’ve ever seen. I’m just shocked at how well this chamber is doing and the things it is doing,” he said.

He’s also amazed at how Conway has progressed and grown since he moved from the city in 1997, although he visited family through the years. As a baseball lover, he can’t get over the quality of the youth baseball fields.

“We grew up at the YBMA (Young Business Men’s Association), and you’d have to go pick up rocks in the infield just to make sure you got a good hop. Now they look like Major League fields. It blew my mind,” he said. “You come back as an adult with a much greater appreciation for things.”

Linck is going back to his passion of making connections, and he is helping start Young Professionals of Conway, technically a satellite club of the Conway Rotary Club, of which Linck is president-elect.

“I love the Rotary Club motto of ‘Service Above Self,’” he said. “I think it’s something Conway needs. To help young people learn service above self, how exciting is that?” he said. The “sweet spot” will be members ages 23 to 34, he said.

The launch party for Young Professionals of Conway will take place from 5-7 p.m. June 27 at Fat Daddy’s Bar-B-Que in downtown Conway. The group has three main components, he said — the social aspect, professional development and philanthropy.

Gates said he knew Linck when they were in their 20s.

“Here’s my No. 1 takeaway on Ed — he has a consistently good attitude. I mean that in that he’s always positive and upbeat, and I’ve literally never heard him complain — I’m talking about two Toad Suck Daze [festivals], cancer, a cross-country move, a new job, a new baby — cancer,” Gates said, repeating the word cancer.

“He genuinely has just a limitless energy for meeting new people and networking and connecting and helping people,” Gates said.

Linck said he’s glad to be back in his hometown, around his family and friends.

Cancer has changed him somewhat.

“I’ve really never sweated the small stuff, but I really don’t now,” he said. “My priorities are clear.”

He and Mariana celebrated their two-year anniversary last week, and Catalina is starting to walk and talk. He said he feels great, and he has a job he loves.

Suffice it to say that 2017 looks like a pretty good year.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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