Solana Beach cancer survivor inspires others as ‘Captain Challenge’ Ironman competitor

By Kristina Houck

Fourteen hours and 55 minutes. That’s how long it took Daniel Powell to finish the Ironman World Championship Oct. 12 in Kona, Hawaii. Although the Solana Beach triathlete had previously completed the endurance swim, cycle and run event in less than 13 hours, his latest Ironman World Championship was his biggest achievement.

“It was two hours off my fastest pace, but it’s all about the experience,” said 54-year-old Powell, who has lived in Solana Beach since 1996. “It was very satisfying. It was my slowest time, but my most rewarding.”

Powell competed in his first Half Ironman in 1994 and his first Ironman triathlon — which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon — in 2000. A 15-time Ironman competitor, he finished 12 Ironmans in five years while in his 40s.

In 2007, however, he was 17 miles into the marathon portion of an Ironman in South Korea when he found himself in too much pain. He quit. Three months later, he was diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer.

The Oct. 12 competition was a major milestone for Powell. It was his first time returning to the sport since he was diagnosed with cancer, had four surgeries and underwent more than a year of radiation and chemotherapy therapies.

“I don’t think I’ll ever compete to be in the top 10 or even the top 100, but just to be part of it was a celebration of life,” Powell said. “In life you get knocked down in many ways — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually — and with God’s grace and God’s strength, you carry on.

“Discouragement is all around. It’s everywhere you look. If I can inspire just one person that may be diagnosed or is depressed or challenged in any way, it’s satisfying. It was my slowest time, but my most satisfying just to be out there participating.”

A San Diego native, Powell graduated from Point Loma High School. In 1991, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in entrepreneurship from USC Marshall School of Business.

As a child, he played baseball. He was on the football team in high school. But Powell didn’t start running until he was in college. In 1980, he competed in his first half marathon at 21 years old.

At first, he ran just to compete. Then he became involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation and began competing for charity.

“I got involved because of the triathlon side of things, but I stayed involved because all the money that was raised was going to people who were in the shadows at the time,” Powell said.

Established in 1997, the San Diego-based nonprofit organization helps athletes with disabilities achieve their fitness and sports goals.

On Oct. 20, just eight days after finishing the Ironman World Championship, Powell participated in the nonprofit organization’s 20th annual San Diego Triathlon Challenge. Nearly 300 challenged athletes from around the country participated side-by-side with able-bodied athletes in the one-mile swim, 44-mile bike and 10-mile run.

“I have very good friendships now with several people that are blind, several people that are in wheelchairs, several people that are missing limbs,” Powell said. “I’ve raced with them and I’ve raced alongside of them. It’s a great day in sports. It’s very inspirational.”

A successful commercial property manager and investor, Powell serves as a board member for the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce. He ran for Solana Beach City Council in 2012. Yet he is most proud of his work with charities.

In the nearly 20 years he has supported the Challenged Athletes Foundation, he has raised close to $900,000 for the organization.

It’s often Captain Challenge who bikes, runs and swims for charity. Dressed in blue tights, a star-covered top hat and a cape, Captain Challenge is the superhero alter ego of Powell, a character he created in 2000 to help raise money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation and other local charities. He completed his latest Ironman as Captain Challenge.

“Captain Challenge is the only superhero with no super powers,” Powell said. “His desire is to encourage others to do something that they’ve never done before — and if you really want to step it up, do something that’s never been done by anyone before. Everyone has this capacity.”

In addition to participating in organized competitions, Powell established his own events to raise money for charity last year.

On Sept. 11, he rode his bike from Salton Sea to the Pacific Ocean to support the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s Operation Rebound, a sports and fitness program for American military personnel, veterans and first responders with permanent physical disabilities. Less than two weeks after the 133-mile “Sea to Shining Sea” bike ride, Powell biked from Yuma, Ariz., to Solana Beach to raise funds for charity.

He plans to do both rides again this year.

“Captain Challenge encourages others to give of their time and their treasury to help people achieve their dreams and support worthwhile causes,” he said. “If a grown man will wear bright blue tights with bright yellow stars and run around, hopefully people will say, ‘The guy’s not taking himself too seriously, but he is actually helping raise money for charity. Maybe I should help.’”

For more information on the Challenged Athletes Foundation, visit