Father Dan Callahan typically doesn’t wear his “Iron Friar” shirt during the biking portion of the Ironman triathlon. So, he normally pedals in anonymity.
But this time was different. Father Dan wore his cycling jersey with the words “Iron Friar” sprawled across the chest, and the surrounding triathletes all recognized him.
Their cries were distinct and audible.
“‘Thank you for your prayers last night, they’re really getting me through this race!’ I heard that a lot,” Father Dan said, referring to the Mass he’d celebrated for the Ironman participants the previous night. “‘I loved your homily! Nice job, Father Dan!’ It was beautiful. You’re always on, because everybody knows you.”
Father Dan competed in his 24th Ironman in 25 years – and what he’s decided was the final triathlon of his long career – on Sunday, July 24 in Lake Placid. He finished the triathlon in 16 hours, 57 minutes and 17 seconds. His finish came just in the nick of time, as the cutoff period to complete the event is 17 hours. Had he finished the Ironman two minutes later, he would have been considered a “DNF” – or, “did not finish.”
In all his years participating, he never received a “DNF,” and he was happy he kept it that way.
“I said, ‘Thanks be to God. Thanks be to the Sisters of the Atonement, who were praying for me. Thanks to the Mercy Sisters who were praying for me, for all the people at Mass who were praying for me,” Father Dan said. “All the Saints and Angels who were praying for me.’ Because by God’s grace, I finished and finished in good health!”
Father Dan began the day early, waking up at 3 a.m. After his ritual of meditation and prayers, he arrived at start line and met his friend, race announcer Mike Reilly. Known as “The Voice of Ironman,” Reilly was among many friends Father Dan encountered before the 2.4-mile swim.
It took Father Dan an hour and 20 minutes to complete the swimming part of the triathlon, which he said went well, despite having to carefully navigate through it.
“The race was really good, except I could never get out of pack,” Father Dan explained. “I was in the crowd the whole time. It slows you down because you’re swimming over bodies. But that went well.”
The blazing heat and seasonal summertime humidity set in during the 112-mile bike ride, a challenge Father Dan had to rise to. However, the friendly words from the fellow bikers helped keep him going.
“Everybody works to keep a positive attitude,” Father Dan said. “The people were so positive.”
He knew the final test – the 26.2-mile run – was going to be the most taxing aspect of the Ironman. Father Dan paced himself, though, hydrating with orange-flavored Gatorade and water, while slowing down to walk stretches of the course. He power-walked towards the end of the route, he said, in order to make the cutoff time.
“I can still hear my mother saying, ‘Don’t start what you can’t finish!’” Father Dan said. “I’m glad I finished.”
A Sense of Community
The Ironman was just the cap on a busy week for Father Dan, who arrived in Lake Placid on Wednesday, July 20. He spent the days leading into the Ironman visiting scores of friends and athletes he’s met in past years.
He first stopped by Uihlein Mercy Center, a nursing home in Lake Placid, where he visited with the Sisters of Mercy.
The Ironman opening ceremony festivities were held on Friday, July 22. There, Father Dan ran into Greg Borzilleri, the race director.
“He said, ‘Oh, Father Dan! You’re just in time to say the prayer!’” Father Dan explained. “I did that, and he made a big fuss over me. ‘How many (Ironman competitions) is this (for you)? 24 or 25?’”
At the pre-race assembly, Father Dan spoke to other participants about Graymoor and St. Christopher’s Inn, the Friars’ rehab center for men in crisis. Father Dan raised money this year, with all proceeds going to feed the homeless men and provide support for men in recovery at St. Christopher’s Inn.
On Saturday, July 23, Father Dan customarily celebrated Mass for the Ironman participants at St. Agnes Church.
“That went very well. The church was packed,” he said. “I called all the athletes up to the altar and they stood around the altar and another Franciscan Friar did a wonderful blessing … It’s all about asking for good weather and good health and we will all forget all the pain we will experience from swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 and running 26.2 miles. You will remember none of this pain! It was a great experience.”