Aug 21, 2023
Dan Callahan, 40, trains near his Warriors Mark home for the Ironman half triathlon championship in which he will compete on Aug. 27 in Finland before heading to two other triathlons in Europe. Mirror photo by William Kibler
Warriors Mark resident Dan Callahan’s father is a retired Christian preacher.
Dan himself has become a preacher, but his gospel is fitness.
A retired intelligence officer who served in the Middle East, Callahan turned away from a life of too much beer and too much weight five years ago to run a marathon — a ritual of suffering that revealed to him that with better preparation and injury care — along with discipline and spirit — he could become a more praiseworthy version of himself.
A measure of how well he’s fulfilled the promise of that epiphany is his schedule over the next several weeks — three world triathlon championship races in three European countries, all of which required him to qualify in his age group in national-level races in the United States.
This week, the 40-year-old Callahan will fly to Finland for the Ironman half triathlon championship Aug. 27, then ferry and drive a rental car to France for the Ironman full triathlon championship Sept. 10 — then drive that car to Pontevedra, Spain, for the Olympic-distance World Triathlon Age Group championship Sept. 24.
“It’s a lot of racing; a lot of logistics — quite the challenge,” Callahan said last week, sitting at his dining room table in a suburban-style house set amid country roads where he regularly runs and cycles — although he resorts to the State College Y for swimming, the third mode of travel for the triathlon.
Callahan brought out a written list of “10 whys” to explain his dedication to the triathlon — and to Spartan Ultra events — and three of them involve the wish to become an exemplary figure: for his two young sons, for his wife, for other family members, for friends and for co-workers at Varian, a company that provides equipment used in the treatment of cancer.
People can take heart from his current level of fitness, given that in 2018, before he began reforming his ways, he had trouble running three miles, he said.
“If I can do this, I think (other) people can (too),” he said. “I’m an advocate for the sport of triathlon.”
Those who try it will improve their quality of life, he said.
Dan Callahan gets a high-five from his son at the finish line of the Ironman triathlon. Courtesy photo
His father was a truck driver who got into preaching late in life, first with a children’s ministry, then as pastor for an Assembly of God church in the Pittsburgh area.
His father would often say, “It’s all about reaching the one.”
His son has a similar outlook.
“I want this (the story about his triathlon accomplishments) to reach at least one person,” he said.
“Sitting on an office chair or the couch, we’re not meant to do that,” Callahan said. “As a species, we’re meant to be outside, to be active, to set some goals and go after them.”
Triathlete Dan Callahan competed in the Spartan Ultra World Championships in Telluride, Colorado, in 2021. Courtesy photo
His advocacy for fitness reflects a “passion for people gene,” rather than any preaching gene, according to his father, James “Cal” Callahan.
For Cal and wife, Vicki, that passion for people seen in their son comes across most clearly after he’s completed a race, when he tirelessly congratulates and encourages others who are finishing behind him, even to the very end.
It’s because for Dan, as with himself, “each and every person is valuable to God and should be valuable to us,” Cal said.
Dan uses racing as a tool to connect with people, Vicki said.
Callahan has a significant prior history with all three modes of triathlon travel, along with a lifelong attraction to endurance sports.
It surfaced one Sunday during fourth grade, when he went to a track in Avalon, Pa., where he grew up, and ran a mile, he said. A couple years later in the summer, he was running as much as 100 miles a week. Running enabled him to explore the area, relieve his stress, converse with himself and “drift away and think about life,” he said. It also enabled him to compete.
As a 10th grader, Callahan rode a bike with four other youths in a church-related fundraising adventure from Kentucky to Florida.
And as a youngster, he taught himself to swim at the Avalon pool, then as a high schooler, swam several distances competitively — along with running cross country and track.
He was always a disciplined child, Cal said.
He’s become a disciplined adult.
“He always tells me when he goes out in the morning, that’s where his God’s at,” Vicki said.
That goal that presented itself to Callahan’s imagination after the painful marathon he ran in 2018 was the Lake Placid full triathlon the following year.
The idea of competing in such a race had stayed with him after watching the Ironman World Championship at Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on TV in sixth grade, he said.
He ran a half-triathlon later in 2018, which went poorly due to injury. Physical therapy helped settle the injury problems. Then he ran a half-triathlon in spring 2019, which went well.
The Lake Placid full triathlon turned out to be “epic,” as he finished in 11 hours and 40-some minutes.
“It opened up my mind to seeing what I was capable of,” he said.
A full triathlon requires traveling 140.6 miles: 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking and 26.2 miles running.
Callahan has done six full and four half-triathlons — as well as three Spartan Ultra races.
His full triathlon personal record is now 9 hours and 55 minutes.
Training involves 5,000 yard swims, 100-mile bike rides and 20-mile runs.
He has a treadmill in his garage — a “dreadmill” — for running indoors when absolutely necessary, and a stationary bike.
He goes to bed between 9 and 10 p.m. and gets up at 4 or 4:30 a.m., so he doesn’t lose “control” of the day to family or work obligations.
“Some days I’m tired, but for the most part, it’s enough (sleep),” he said.
The discipline involved, and the practice of becoming “comfortable being uncomfortable,” helps control his “vices,” including a taste for beer, he said.
Based on a book he has read, Callahan subscribes to an 80-20 training method, with 80% of the workout load low intensity and 20% high intensity, with mid-range intensity workouts to be avoided.
Workouts sometimes include exercises that mimic the transition from swimming to biking and biking to running, both of which present special challenges.
Supporting his hobby
The total cost of the upcoming European races will be about $15,000, according to Callahan.
“I had to really get creative with our finances to make this trip happen,” Callahan said.
He’s doing it as cheaply as possible, using frequent flier miles, free days for the rental car and Airbnbs, he said.
High-level triathlon participation is an expensive hobby for “age-groupers” like him, he said.
“But I don’t spend money on anything else,” he said.
Neighbor Greg White has organized a GoFundMe page for Callahan that had raised $2,430 toward a $3,000 goal as of Friday afternoon.
The fundraising is meant to cover entrance fees, transportation within Europe and some other logistical expenses, White wrote on the web page for the effort.
White has been “awesome,” Callahan said. “A huge help.”
Following the European trip, Callahan has a further ambition: to compete in a full triathlon in Florida in November in hopes of qualifying for next year’s Ironman at Kona, an “ultimate aspiration.” While 2023 is a “pinnacle year,” he wants to continue to grow, Callahan said.
In competition, when he finds himself in “tough spots,” he looks down at his forearms.
Before the races, he writes his sons’ names: TJ’s on the left and Danny’s on the right.
Seeing those names motivates him, he said.
“I want them to see their dad as someone who doesn’t quit, who does hard things and who doesn’t make excuses,” he said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.
The Callahan file
Name: Dan Callahan
Hometown: Born in Pittsburgh, currently resides in Warriors Mark
Family: Son of James “Cal” and Vicki Callahan; married to Kim; two sons, TJ, 6, and Danny, 4
Education: Northgate High School, 2001; Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2009, business management
Military: Enlisted in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, 2001; was deployed to Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Djibouti as an intelligence officer. Retired from military in 2022.
Employment: Varian, a provider of hardware and software for radiation oncology; Dan is strategic account service manager supporting U.S. government accounts for treatment of service members on active duty and veterans and their dependents.
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