8/8/12 | 783 views
Atonement Friar Weaves Faith and Athletics in Ironman Triathlons
Given the brutal heat so far this summer, many competitors will probably be praying for cool weather when the 2012 Ironman Triathlon U.S. Championships come to New York on Aug. 11. This year they may have a little divine pull. One of the expected 2,500 participants, Father Daniel Callahan, S.A., has connections.
“August 11 is St. Clare’s feast day,” said Father Callahan, a Franciscan Friar of Atonement, who noted that St. Clare of Assisi is the patroness of good weather.
If the Ironman had an official chaplain, Father Callahan, who is currently pastor of St. Joan of Arc parish in Toronto, could be it. For years now he has celebrated a well-attended Mass for competitors the night before the renowned annual Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid. Then early the next morning he’d suit up for the grueling all-day, three-discipline, 140-mile endurance test. He’s completed the mountainous course in 15 hours, 49 minutes.
The New York course extends through parts of New York and New Jersey. It will include a 2.4-mile swim in the Hudson River, a 112-mile bike road race on the Palisades Parkway and conclude with the traditional 26.2-mile marathon run beginning in New Jersey and ending in Riverside Park in Manhattan.
The 61-year-old Father Callahan is in incredible physical condition. He is lithe, his legs are massive and he looks about 20 years younger than his age. But he’s quick to stress that he does not sacrifice his pastoral duties on the altar of physical fitness.
“Training for me is always between the cracks of my ministry,” he explained. “My training schedule takes a back seat to the pastoral needs that determine everything else.”
Father Callahan has been taking part in Ironman competitions since 1992, when he was serving in parishes in South Central Los Angeles. His sister and brother in law were living in nearby Huntington Beach and one weekend invited him on a lark to join them in a local Half Ironman competition.
Father Callahan, one of eight children who grew up in Buffalo, has been involved in athletics, either running or swimming, since he was a kid. He figured he was in reasonably good condition, so he took them up on their challenge and completed the course without having done any pre-conditioning. “I could run 13 miles and I could swim a mile, so I went and did it without really working out and they hated me,” he said with a hearty laugh.
His first full Ironman was in Montreal a year later and he’s been participating in them since, not for the competitive rush as much as for the fun and spirituality of it. Of running, he says, “It’s a great place to pray, a great place to be open with the Lord.”
His passion for the sport really took off when he was missioned to the St. Joseph Rehabilitation Center for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in Saranac Lake, near Lake Placid, as a pastoral counselor in the mid-1990s. Lake Placid is kind of the Mecca of Ironman competition and he soon got to know just about everyone in the area involved with the sport. When he runs in the Adirondacks he frequently finds himself ministering along the way. As an adopted Adirondacker, he proudly calls himself “a 46er,” meaning he’s climbed all 46 of the park’s high peaks.
Father Callahan entered the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in 1980 and professed his final vows in 1986. He was ordained in 1987. Earlier, he had experienced some spiritual drift, at one point almost abandoning his faith entirely after graduating from Boston University in the late 1970s.
“I was kind of educated out of my faith,” he said. “It was the ’70s and those were crazy days. I became fairly agnostic.” Perhaps prophetically he first heard the call to his vocation while doing laps in a swimming pool in Philadelphia. “I got out of the pool and went to Mass,” he recalled. He continued going to Mass daily thereafter to discern his surprising calling to the priesthood.
The Ironman competition enables Father Callahan to weave the two main threads of his life, his Catholic faith and athletics, together. In the last 15 years he has raised more than $100,000 through sponsorships that went directly to the Franciscan ministry to care for the addicted, the poor and less fortunate at the St. Joseph’s Center.
“I just thought I know a lot of people who raise funds for different causes, and thought this would be a good way to raise money for them,” he explained.
This year he hopes to raise $20,000 for the missions and ministries of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.
"We are proud of our brother Father Dan. He knows that excellence in ministry requires a balance in mind, body, and spirit,” said Father James F. Puglisi, S.A., minister general of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. “His run in these races exemplifies his commitment to the ministries of the friars and an encouragement to young people to strive for excellence in the service of God."
Father Callahan is also raising money for his parish in Toronto, where in the past he has raised funds to repair the stained-glass windows and make other improvements.
Weather not withstanding, he’s looking forward to competing in New York, even to swimming in the Hudson.
“As a 46er I’ve been to Lake Tear of the Clouds (on the southwest slope of Mt. Marcy) which is where the Hudson begins,” he explained. “At Graymoor I could see (the Hudson) off in the distance. I love it and I always wanted to swim in it.”
After the U.S. Championships he will rest his body a few days and then begin training around his busy parish schedule for the world championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on Oct. 13. At 61 he recognizes he can’t do this forever and he’s philosophical about it.
“I don’t kill myself in these things,” he assured. “It’s about having fun. It’s like faith and life, one day at a time.”
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