A mortar shell in Iraq shattered Ivan Castro's eyesight and maybe his military career. Now he's on a new mission: making sure he's got enough money to live on.
(Money Magazine) -- In October 2006, after seven weeks as a patient at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. - four of them in intensive care - 1st Lieut. Ivan Castro was still in bad shape. The month before, he'd been hit by mortar fire during combat in Iraq, shrapnel ripping through his body, causing multiple injuries that had left him near death.
During his stay in the hospital, Castro had lost 40 pounds. He could walk only about 10 steps before collapsing into a wheelchair. Worse still, the explosion had blown out one of his eyes and badly damaged the other. He was blind. Permanently.
Lying in his bed, Castro overheard a doctor and nurse talking about their recent run in the Marine Corps Marathon, a 26.2-mile race held annually in the Washington, D.C. area. Impulsively he set what seemed to be an outrageous goal. In one year, Castro promised himself, he would run the marathon. "I'm going to show everybody this is not going to take me down," Castro, 40, recalls telling himself. "This won't put me out of the fight."
Castro's can-do optimism in the face of grim situations had served him well in numerous combat zones.
ARLINGTON, Va. — Two days before a 10-mile race here, Army 1st Lt. Ivan Castro is explaining how he will run tethered to another soldier — one who can see.
As he speaks, his wife lovingly extends her right hand to Castro's face, fingers outstretched. But Evelyn Galvis pauses inches away.
"I used to be able to reach out and touch him, caress him, without telling him first, 'I'm going to touch your face,' " she says. Now, "if I just reach out and touch him, he'll startle."
Castro, 40, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, is one of more than 1,100 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan — 13% of all seriously wounded casualties — to undergo surgery for damaged eyes. That is the highest percentage for eye wounds in any major conflict dating to World War I, according to research published in the Survey of Ophthalmology.
It's a reflection of how eye injuries have become one of the most devastating consequences of a war in which roadside bombs, mortars and grenades are the most commonly used weapons against U.S. troops. Brain injuries and amputations have long been the focus of the damage such weapons are inflicting, but the Army has acknowledged in recent weeks that serious eye wounds have accumulated at almost twice the rate as wounds requiring amputations.
When 1st Lt. Ivan Castro was serving in Iraq in September 2006, he suffered multiple wounds, including the loss of his right eye, loss of sight in his left eye and his right index finger, after a mortar hit the rooftop where he was providing fire support to fellow Soldiers during a battle with insurgents. That happened only 12 months ago and at the time,
Doctors had serious doubts whether Castro would live another week, let along be able to continue serving in the Army, and they sure never expected him to be able to compete in the Army 10-Miler. In fact they probably would have said it was impossible.
On Sunday, 1Lt Castro DID compete in the Army 10-Miler and did a fantastic job, clocking in at
1 hour and 25 minutes. That’s a solid and respectable time for anyone, let alone a 40 year old lost his sight a year ago. That’s a pace of just under 9 minutes a mile. Being able to run at all is a miracle in itself, let alone being able to complete the race in the time that he did.
“This time last year, I was in bed in a hospital,” said Castro, who had tubes everywhere, a filter in his heart, monitors hooked up to anything that could be monitored and a nerve block surgically installed to control pain so severe, the drugs necessary to control it would have left him close to a coma.
As he lay there in that hospital bed, with his prognosis not very good, he had no doubt he would be able to achieve the goals that he’d set for himself, in the next year. Those goals were to be able to complete in the Army 10 Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon. Castro traveled to Washington D.C. to compete
in Sunday’s Army 10-miler, from Fort Bragg, N.C. where he remains on active duty.
At Bragg, he trained for the two races with Major Phil Young, who was his team leader in the Special Forces. He ran by being tethered to Young, by two while shoelaces tied together. Young called out “audibles” as they moved, warning Castro of possible hazards. Both said that most of the guiding is done by the shoelaces.
“He was trained in the Special Forces to improvise, adapt and overcome,” his wife Evelyn Galvis said. “That’s what he’s done, and what he’s going to keep doing.”
Now that he’s completed the Army 10-Miler, Castro is focused on continuing to train for the Marine Corps Marathon which is scheduled for October 29th. In the meantime, he’s already set a new goal for himself. To compete in the Army 10 Miler next year and to make his time even faster than it was this year.
Castro was one of 28 running medical miracles that participated in Sunday’s Race in the “Missing Parts In Action” team. That team is composed of military amputees and their physical therapists. They began competing in the Army 10-Miler as the brainchild of the team captain, US Army Major David Rozelle. Rozelle lost his right foot to an anti-tank mine in Iraq in June 2003. He made world headlines when the Army declared him fit for duty and gave him command of the 3rd ACR headquarters unit. He returned to Iraq, just one year after losing his foot. He was the very first amputee in recent military history to resume command in a battlezone.
For the members of the “Missing Parts In Action” team, this race is an opportunity to celebrate life and their return to health and the military community, but also an opportunity for them to pay tribute to those who haven’t made it yet, or perhaps never will.
Another team member, Captain Wesley Knight, is an active-duty Army officer who suffered a partial hand amputation. He told reporters on Friday at a press conference that being able to cross the finish line would be a very emotional time for him.
“I’ll be thinking about a lot of people who can’t be there,” he said. “And the ones who won’t ever run a 10-mile race again.”
This team is so inspiring. They’ve all went against the odds to not only get healthy and return to the Army and to doing everyday things in life, but they’ve been able to compete in a race, that many completely healthy men and women, much younger than them, would never be able to accomplish. They did so with grace and style. These men and women are epitome of the American Warrior, they embody what it means to adapt and overcome anything in their way, to achieve the goals that they’ve set for themselves. Each and every one of the members of the “Missing Parts In Action” team embody the true meaning of the term…. Army Strong.