Castro Continues Serving, Inspiring

Editor’s Notes: Ivan Castro and his wife Evelyn Galvis have brought cheer to BVA members and friends as Operation Peer Support participants at the last two BVA National Conventions. Ivan is now a life member of the Association and a mentor through the U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition. As such, he is on travel orders to visit, mentor, and console, on demand, other blinded service members from Special Operations units.

He has become known throughout the United States and in the United Kingdom for his courage, strength, and outreach to others. He was injured on September 2, 2006 when, just having relieved fellow soldiers on a rooftop near Youssifiyah, Iraq, two rounds of mortar fire exploded in his immediate surroundings. He remained unconscious for six weeks.

The following was originally printed by the Air Force Public Affairs Office in preparation for Ivan’s run in the Air Force Marathon last fall and reprinted here with permission.

Special Forces Soldier Not Your Average USAF Marathoner

By Kathleen A.K. Lopez, Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs

Army Captain Ivan Castro remembers the exact moment he knew he wanted to run a marathon.

As he lay in his hospital bed at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Ivan listened to the attending doctor and nurse who were on either side of him. They were comparing their experiences at the Marine Corps Marathon, held annually in mid-October in Washington, D.C.

"It was like I was watching a ping pong match, except I was following their voices," Ivan said.

Blinded by mortar fire while serving with the Infantry in Iraq, Ivan could not rely on his caretakers' facial expressions, but depended on the enthusiasm in their voices. 
"As they left, I thought to myself, 'I love running. I miss running. That's what I'm going to do,'" he said.

But he had a long way to go before he could run 26.2 miles. In fact, the first time he tried standing, it took three people to support him and he could only remain on his feet for a of couple seconds before breaking out in a cold sweat.

The next time those medics checked on him, Ivan said he started "poking around," asking questions about the Marine Corps Marathon course. Ivan also told them that he was going to run the race the following year.

"'Yeah, sure you are. That's a great goal,' they said. I could hear the doubt in their voices," Ivan said. "They thought I couldn't do it."

Ivan knew he could. But, first, he'd have to lose the excess weight. Initially losing 50 pounds after his accident and unable to walk, Ivan started eating like a "madman;" his five-foot, eight-inch frame subsequently tipping the scales in excess of 200 pounds.

"I started to use working out as a stress release; my little happy place," he said. "And I stopped eating everything in sight," he said with his humor intact.

The next several months, Ivan would work toward his goal. Between his many surgeries, his routine consisted of healthier, more controlled eating, and dedication to his physical therapy schedule. When he was strong enough, he began running: first, on a treadmill, then, slowly, converting to pavement.

He decided to test his progress by running in the Army Ten-Miler, held annually in early October, also in Washington D.C. He ran the race connected to a guide (a fellow runner) at the wrist with a shoestring. Ivan followed his guide's verbal instruction. Feeling good afterward, he was even more determined to run the Marine Corps race.

"I recovered in a hospital that incorporates both the Navy and the Marines," he said. "I wanted to complete that marathon so I could show the docs and staffs what a great job they did putting me back together."

Not only did he complete the marathon but he enjoyed it, despite the pain he has grown accustomed to feeling. This past spring, he ran the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon in White Sands, New Mexico, and the Boston Marathon. There have been 10-kilometer races here and there, and Ivan competed in his first triathlon in Colorado Springs last July.

"People ask me why I keep running," he said. "I do it because I like it, and because I can still take one more step. I love the challenge of competing against myself."

Ivan trained for and ran the U.S. Air Force Marathon last September 20. It was the culmination of what he considers the U.S. Armed Forces ground-pounding "trifecta."

"Running is not a team event," Ivan said. "But putting me back together was a team event," referencing the unknown Air Force medics who cared for him in Balad, Iraq, as well as aircrews and aircraft that transported him back to the United States.

"I'm running the Air Force Marathon to support the team who supported me," he said before the race. "We are one team; one fight. Whether it's fixing me, or taking on our day-to-day jobs, we are all together as one. We cannot do our business without our brothers and sisters in the air, at sea, or on land."

Ivan ran the marathon tethered to Lieutenant Colonel Fred Dummar, Special Operations Recruiting Battalion commander. The two of them train together and have previously competed jointly in other races.

"We are honored that Captain Castro deliberately chose to run our race, especially as the Air Force celebrates its 61st year as an independent service," said Molly Louden, Air Force Marathon director. "He is an inspiration. He faces challenges most of us will never know. And yet, he is exemplary as an Armed Forces member and athlete."

Ivan said he is not trying to start a movement. He just wants people, especially his fellow combat-wounded warriors, to know there is life after blindness.

"Sure, I have asked, 'Why both eyes? Why not just one? Why couldn't I see some light, or shadows?' Then I remind myself to trust in God and be grateful to Him. We all can complain that we have the worst time. But, somewhere, someone else has it worse."