Danny Gabriel '92 has been a one-handed athlete all his life, and he's committed to encouraging others with physical challenges to achieve their goals.
“I look at being born with one hand as a blessing,” says Danny Gabriel ’92. This positivity and gratitude is the way Gabriel leads his life. As a former high school and college athlete, he has spent nearly 15 years dedicated to supporting and advocating for athletes with physical challenges.
Gabriel was born limb deficient—without his left hand—and he’s viewed this challenge as advantageous to developing the grit and work ethic that has helped him achieve excellence throughout his life, including as a lifelong athlete.
At La Jolla Country Day School, Gabriel competed in three sports: soccer, tennis and cross country. He excelled in all three and received numerous accolades, including the player of the year in both soccer and tennis in 1992. LJCDS honored his achievements and contributions to the athletic program by inducting him into the LJCDS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.
After graduating from LJCDS, Gabriel took his talent and tenacity to the University of California, Berkeley, where he played soccer and earned bachelor’s degrees in economics and business administration. Giving back to the community with his time and talent has always been important to Gabriel. “It surprises me how few adults do charity work today,” he says. “I feel like there’s a small group of people who are extremely philanthropic with their time.”
Instilling Fight and Inspiration
A big part of Gabriel’s philanthropic endeavors involves serving as a voice and an advocate for the Challenged Athletes Foundation
(CAF), a nonprofit dedicated to providing opportunities and support to people with physical challenges so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics. Gabriel is a reassuring voice, mentor and ally to families with physically challenged children: “I often meet with families with young children that are either amputees or born with a defect. As the kids are getting older, and trying to deal with it, they come to me.”
Mindset and attitude are the focus of his conversations. “We’re all dealt cards,” he says. “People are inclined to feel sorry for themselves, and we feel sorry for others. We’re raising kids that don’t have a fight in them. I meet a lot of people, and I say, ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself as parents that you have a kid with one leg, and stop feeling sorry for your kid because they will figure it out, and eventually, they will inspire you. Start feeling like the glass is half full and the door is half open.’ You watch these kids who are so inspiring because they have to have grit and perseverance to overcome challenges.”
Not only has Gabriel served as an advocate since his first introduction to CAF in the early 2000s, he has also been an active participant and fundraiser. In 2017, Gabriel and his family pledged to support a six-month fundraising campaign for CAF from August 2017 through February 2018. They raised more than $120,000 for the foundation across three events, kicking off with Gabriel’s participation in a 300-mile cycling challenge in Northern California.
Several years ago, he introduced the LJCDS student Community Service Board to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Now, the school holds an annual soccer tournament benefiting CAF: Fly’s Four-on-Four, named in honor of Upper School history teacher and men’s varsity soccer coach Jerry Fleischhacker. Fleischhacker was Gabriel’s soccer coach his senior year.
Getting More Than You Give
Giving back is an important priority for the Gabriel family. As part of their campaign pledge, the family participated in the 14th annual CAF Triathlon Challenge in fall 2018. Gabriel’s wife, Dana, and their three daughters, Sadie (10), Zoe (8) and Vanessa (5), participated in the 5K run, while he and son Jake (12) combined forces to tackle a one-mile ocean swim before Gabriel finished off the challenge with a 40-mile bike ride and a 10-mile run.
“CAF has become a way of life for our household,” he shares. “We continue to find great strength in this incredible organization that helps athletes with disabilities from all over the world get back into sports.”
Each year, Gabriel commits to raising $75,000–$100,000 for the organization to support programs, including camps, clinics and grants. In 2018, the foundation offered $4.3 million in grants to more than 2,000 individuals for adaptive equipment, coaching, mentoring and competition expenses.
Gabriel balances his philanthropic commitments with his job as the CEO of ColRich Multifamily, a real estate development and investment firm. In addition to supporting CAF, Gabriel serves on a board at Scripps Memorial Hospital. He and his family also support nonprofits in Tijuana, building homes and helping in orphanages, among other service work.
“Nonprofit and community service work is a priority for our family,” he explains. “We do these things because we want to feel good about who we are and our impact on this planet. Sometimes we get so focused on ourselves and the rat race that we forget that when you go out and help others, in the end, the person you’re helping out is yourself, and what you get out of it is more than you give.”