I recently had the chance to talk Ironman with Dan Powell aka Captain Challenge (CC). One of the flies on the wall captured these notes from that conversation. There were a lot of flies around us since we had both recently finished Ironman races!
CZ: What was your athletics background before triathlon?
CC: Youth baseball (8 years), high school football, some running through college (the occasional 10K run or Half Marathon).
CZ: How long have you been racing triathlons and what prompted you to enter that first race?
CC: Since 1989. I ran the Second Annual LA Marathon in 1987, training with some guys from work. I enjoyed the comradery of training together. I thought the race was OK, but constant pounding. I thought it would be my last marathon. Then, I jumped when I heard about triathlon. I thought I'd be exercising for the same amount of time (for training and competition) as a marathon. So I decided to enter The San Luis Obisbo Triathlon. The swim was in a pool. You counted your own laps. I can't say that I was "hooked" then, but ever since, I've done 4-10 triathlons/year.
CZ: and can you tell us what your first triathlon was like and if anything goofy happened?
CC: My first triathlon was somewhat uneventful, however I have plenty of goofy triathlon stories. When I was finishing the bike portion of a USTS (Olympic distance) race in San Clemente I did not realize there were TWO transition areas (I suppose I should have read the race preparation materials). My running shoes were in T1, but everybody was racking their bikes in T2 (about two miles away). For Ironman Switzerland I borrowed a bike, bike shoes and helmet and, eventually, a wetsuit (I know it broke all the rules). I say eventually because it was about a half hour before race start when the race officials announced that wetsuits were allowed (the water temperature was right around 75 degrees all week). So I was scrambling to rent one from somebody at the expo. I was zipping it up when the gun went off. So I was entering the crowd of fans from behind saying "Excuse me, pardon me, I'm in the race". It really wasn't so bad. I probably lost a minute or two, and I didn't get punched or kicked once.
CZ: What triggered your mind that made you think that Dan Powell could complete an Ironman?
CC: I wanted to complete an Ironman at forty years old and at seventy years old. When the California Ironman presented itself, I knew I'd do it. I can't tell you how the Ironman at seventy will turn out.
CZ: What was your first Ironman distance race and what was that experience like?
CC: Ironman Cafifornia in 2000. I had a good experience. In fact I've had a good experience in every Ironman. In 2001 I did Switzerland, which was just like you'd picture it to be: biking past mountain villages. It was great. In 2002, I did New Zealand and Ironman Revisited on Oahu, which was the original Ironman course.
CZ: Congratulations on your recent completion of Hawaii in 13:00:21. That is an awesome performance. How was that race different from the other Ironmans you have raced?
CC: It was hotter. After a few miles on the run I thought I might melt. I also got "some color," otherwise known as a sunburn. My mom was right: "Wear some sunscreen".....but did I listen.........NOoooooooo. So when it comes to Kona, listen to your mother! The build up around Kona is really exciting. Lots of really fit athletes from all over the world are there. And, of course all of the top pros. At the other Ironman races, there are a few top pros, but in Hawaii, everybody is there.
CZ: So you have now done 5 Ironman races, do you still get nervous before the cannon?
CC: I don't think I've ever gotten nervous before the cannon. Each time is a little different, and they are all exciting, but I don't get caught up in craziness. I find a nice peaceful place in my own consciousness and remain there for the whole race. It is my little test.....can I stay calm in the midst of the storm?
CZ: You have made a huge impact on the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). How much money have you raised for that organization over the years?
CC: Over $100,000. The San Diego Triathlon Challenge has been a part of my life for the last eight years. The Challenge is both the half Ironman course and the fundraising. The fundraising adds an additional component of time and effort throughout the year. But the payback is huge. I have met many of the grant recipients that have benefited from the fundraising. I'm always figuring out new and more effective ways to raise money.
CZ: That's a lot of dough. How did you do it?
CC: Diferent ways for different situations. I've imagined some big "what ifs?" and then went after them to achieve the results. For example, Penta has a superior water. I thought they should be a part of the San Diego triathlon Challenge. They signed on in a big way last year as the Title Sponsor, and by providing Penta water on the course. It was a natural fit, but each party needed to know that the other existed. If we keep talking Craig, you're going to write a check for $250. I can almost guarentee it. I make it too attractive to NOT contribute.
CZ: Tell me how your involvement with CAF has changed your life.
CC: In so many ways. Recently, when in Hawaii for Ironman, after being acknowledged for raising a bunch of money, an amputee athlete came up to me and said "thanks for my leg." My eyes are watering now telling you about it. That was a pretty awesome feeling. I was hooked after my first San Diego Triathlon Challenge when Jim MacLaren spoke and said "This is how life can be.......athletes helping each other, sponsors donating product....everybody doing what they can to make this world a better place." I thought, "Wow, he's right!"......and I thought "I'm in!" The world can be changed for the better and each of us can change it. The small things each of us do have such a profound impact on others. As Captain Challenge would say: "Challenge yourself to do something you've never done before.........and help others acheive their dreams." What you get back will far exceed anything you can imagine.
CZ: Hey Dan, thanks for the time. You are a difference maker for a lot of people.