When you think of “destination” go-fast boating waterways—the kind you feel compelled to experience before you die—Lake Winnebago probably doesn’t leap to mind. That’s not a dig on the relatively narrow, 28-1/2-mile long Wisconsin waterway roughly 75 miles north and slightly west of Milwaukee, but you just don’t come across a whole lot of folks who say they’re dying to run there.
So why then will this weekend’s Four Horsemen Poker Run—happening for its eighth year—on the small lake attract more than 70 boats from the Midwest, Northeast and Canada? Why has Vinnie Diorio, a well-known member of the high-performance powerboating community who owns an Outerlimits SV 43 sportboat, religiously attended the run for the past five or six years? Why is Anthony Scioli, the head of Elite Poker Runs LLC, the organization producing the 2017 Erie Poker Run, Western New York Poker Run, Mentor Poker and Grand Island Poker Run heading to Lake Winnebago to check it out this weekend? Why does either Scott Sjogren or Greg Weber of Mystic Powerboats sales put it on their hectic schedules each year?
Because it’s really cool and casual, filled with good people and always delivers a great time—that’s the book on the Four Horsemen Poker Run, which derives its apocalyptic name from any number of literary sources, including the New Testament of the Bible.
At the heart of this beloved event, which has grown every year since its inception, is an upbeat woman named Shannon Radtke. As it happens, “heart” is the perfect word to apply when it comes to the 40-year-old registered nurse, who is married to official Four Horsemen Poker Run event photographer/graphic artist/webmaster Brian Radtke (They have a 10-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son.) Nine months ago, one of her carotid arteries, one of two pipelines that supply blood to the brain, neck and face, according to webmd.com, “exploded,” she said.
“I had two mini strokes,” said Shannon. “It’s usually a perk that I get to go around the poker run in Vinnie’s beautiful boat or one of Sjogren’s Mystics, but this year I’m not sure I’ll be able to. I have a titanium stint in my carotid artery.”
That Radtke offered this information in the same cheery tone in which she described the ongoing growth of the event she started with her friend and fellow Four Horseman Poker Run founder Jason Lindeman, who owns the host venue Sweetwater Performance Center Marina and Dockside Tavern as well as a 42-foot Outerlimits V-bottom, tells you a lot about her inner strength and positive outlook.
“I am going to be fine,” she said. “I just might not be riding on a boat this year.”
Until Lindeman approached Radtke about reviving a poker run—the longstanding Osk Kosh Poker Run fell apart in the late 2000s—on the lake eight years ago, she and her husband hadn’t been part of the go-fast boating world. They owned a small cuddy cabin runabout, not a high-performance catamaran or V-bottom. But it’s fair to say that she took to her organizational duties for the 104-mile run and surrounding festivities brilliantly.
“I do all the planning during the year,” she said. “Jason goes into high gear two weeks before the event. He’s down at the host site right now hanging signs.
“We had 18 boats our first year,” she continued. “The event has grown every year. Last year, we ran 57 boats. This year, the weather forecast is good. Four more people just called and registered yesterday. I will have 70 to 74 boats running on Saturday.”
While there are “card stop” boats positioned at various points on the lake, poker hand cards are not distributed until the blind draw after the run is finished. “Passing out cards on those long poles from a boat, that’s another insurance claimed waiting to happen,” said Radtke, then laughed. “The boats in our run circle the card boats, but they don’t stop. We have two or three spots where we actually stop to raft-off and have a cold drink, and have lunch. But we distribute the cards when everyone gets back to the Dockside Tavern.”
In years past, a portion of the event’s proceeds have been donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This time around, the organizers are pointing their fundraising efforts in a more local direction.
“We are working with the family of a young girl in Osh Kosh,” said Radtke. “She has a rare form of leukemia and her treatment is two hours away from here. Going forward, we’re going to ask our poker runners to nominate a person or a family they believe that could benefit from a financial donation, and we’ll choose from those.”
Given the upward attendance trend of the Four Horsemen Poker Run, Radtke and company certainly won’t lack for worthy recipients in the years to come.
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.