Triathlons are full of stories of the deserving athlete: the competitor who trains to win and the high-achieving master of endurance. This is the story of a woman who wanted so badly to be an athlete again after a devastating injury, and of the mental fortitude it takes to triumph over adversity.
At the top of her game, Denise Castelli was a college softball player, a senior competing in the NCAA for the University of New Haven (CT) in 2008.
“I was trying to steal second base,” Castelli said, “I was sliding in and fell hard, and I broke my leg. I crawled to the base to get the tag, but I knew then that I wouldn’t be finishing out the season.”
Surgeons implanted a rod to aid healing and get Denise back on her feet, but an insidious infection led to 18 months in the hospital and 30 surgeries, ultimately resulting in the amputation of her right leg below the knee.
“When I lost my leg, I didn’t think I could ever be an athlete again, which was devastating for me. I was such a tough competitor that I would’ve given anything to return. I needed to know what my body could still do.”
To test the water, Castelli and her parents attended a Challenged Athletes Foundation running and mobility clinic. Having been fitted with a prosthetic lower leg and foot, Denise laced up her running shoes and took off like a rocket across the field.
“CAF gave me back that feeling of being an athlete,” Castelli said. “And I’ve made lifelong friends here, many of whom are serious athletes. They understood exactly what I was going through.”
Today, Castelli is getting ready for TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon with title sponsor Johnson & Johnson and presenting sponsor Philadelphia Insurance Companies, on June 22nd. Her good friend, Scout Bassett, will begin the race with the open-water swim in the Schuylkill River, and Castelli will complete the bike and run portions. In September she hopes to compete in her first half-Ironman, and will add the swim.
“Endurance racing really tests you mentally and physically,” Castelli said. “You may think you’re out there with hundreds of people, but you’re all alone, competing with yourself. It’s a test of your mental strength. All the tools I used to get through amputation are the same ones that I need to train for endurance racing.”
“Whatever happens at the race, I’m just so glad to be out here again,” Castelli said. “I’ve learned that with triathlon, if I train correctly, I can go any distance. And when my family sees me out there racing, and happy, they and I both know that I’m going to be OK,” she said. “More than winning, that’s been my real triumph.”
About the Challenged Athletes Foundation
The Challenged Athletes Foundation® (CAF) is a world leader in helping individuals with physical challenges get involved – and stay involved – in sports. CAF believes that participation in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life. Since 1994, more than $47 million has been raised and almost 8,200 funding requests from challenged athletes in all 50 states and dozens of countries have been satisfied. Additionally, CAF’s outreach efforts reach another 65,000 individuals each year. Whether it’s a $2,500 grant for a handcycle, helping underwrite a carbon fiber running foot not covered by insurance, or arranging enthusiastic encouragement from a mentor who has triumphed over a similar challenge, CAF’s mission is clear: give those with the desire to live active, athletic lifestyles every opportunity to compete in the sports they love. To learn more, log on to www.challengedathletes.org or call 858-866-0959.
About TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon
Originally established in 1995, TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon, with title sponsor Johnson & Johnson and presenting sponsor Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY) is recognized as one of the premier triathlon festival weekends in the country. Taking place June 22-23, 2013 in Fairmount Park, the 9th annual event features three days of activities including a MultiSport Expo and Sprint Distance Race. Event weekend culminates with the showcase Olympic Distance Race featuring some of the best pro triathletes in the country. All participants are treated to a finisher’s medal, technical t-shirt, red carpet finish, post-race breakfast, beer garden and finish line concert. The race supports several non-profit organizations including the Official Race Charity, Challenged Athletes Foundation® (CAF).
The PHLY Cup pro division awards the top men’s and women’s Olympic finishers a prize purse totaling $25,000. Children can also participate in the event with the new TriRock Philly Kids Fun Run, which takes place after the Sprint race on Saturday, June 22. Owned and operated by Competitor Group, TriRock Philadelphia is part of the world-class TriRock Triathlon Series presented by REI, which has races in eight cities across North America.