Friday, May 22, 2015

Wounded Warrior Maj. Ivan Castro - Retirement Won't Slow Him Down

It wasn't easy, but after Ivan Castro was blinded by a blast in Iraq in 2006, he fought to stay in the Army.

A major serving within U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Castro has tried to be an inspiration for others like him by showing that his injuries can't stop his drive to succeed. Since losing his sight, Castro has run 50 marathons, climbed mountains, cycled across the continental United States and, last year, trekked to the South Pole alongside Great Britain's Prince Harry.

Now Castro's military career is coming to an end, but that doesn't mean he's taking a back seat in his quest to inspire and help others. or the second year, Castro will host the Special Operators Challenge at the Carolina Horse Park near Raeford. The May 30 event, which will feature a children's race and 5k and 10k obstacle course races, will raise money for seven nonprofit organizations.

Castro has bigger plans for his organization and his post-military career. He plans to form a foundation in addition to the group that puts on the challenge. He's working on a memoir with Jim DeFelice, the author who helped write Chris Kyle's autobiography that became the basis for the movie "American Sniper.''

And even though he's taking off the uniform, Castro wants to continue to be a spokesman for those coping with their own injuries and pass on the life lessons he's learned as a wounded warrior.

"I'm very blessed," Castro said. "It could have always been worse. I can't see, but in my eyes the grass is always green and the sun is always shining." "I don't have a disability, I have a limitation," he said. "I have been given a second chance at life. I want to continue to help and serve people."

The Special Operators Challenge will include three events.

The Little Muddy is a short race - with mile and half-mile options - for children. The Boomerang 5k is an obstacle run with the added challenge of integrating beers and bratwurst into the race. The Muddy Nick 10k is a rugged race filled with mud, dirt and water integrated into military-style obstacles.

The races attracted more than 800 competitors last year. This year, officials are not accepting same-day registration. Instead, competitors must register online at specialoperatorschallenge.com.

Registration fees go toward an organization of the competitor's choice from among a list that includes the Special Forces Charitable Trust; Team Red, White and Blue; the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation; the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund; Step Up For Soldiers; the Fayetteville Running Club and the Special Forces Association.

Castro said the organizations were chosen because of their ties to supporting American heroes. We're all about honoring those that serve," he said. "I want to give back."

Castro was injured while serving with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq in September 2006. He lost his right eye and the vision in his left eye. After recovering at a military hospital, Castro fought to stay out of the Army's warrior transition units for fear that doing so would be the beginning of the end for his Army career. Castro wanted to fulfill the commitment he made when he transitioned from noncommissioned officer to officer.

Castro "did it all" as an enlisted soldier. He was a pathfinder, a Ranger, in a long-range surveillance unit and a Green Beret.

When he became an officer, he needed an age waiver, but he committed the next 10 years of his life to the Army in return. He then served in the 82nd Airborne Division up until his injuries, deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Castro was recently promoted to major, but he said finishing that commitment was his biggest success in his 26-year career. "Despite my blindness, I was able to do it," he said. "I made it. I never thought it would be possible."

It was in those first years after his injury that Castro set the stage for what will become his post-military life. In 2008, he was a race director for the annual Jingle Bell Jog, a race that benefits the families of fallen Special Forces soldiers. From that point on, Castro was hooked on the idea of creating a great event where competitors could challenge themselves while also helping others.

He became involved in other races. When he saw obstacle course races gaining popularity, he decided to create his own challenge along with his wife, Evelyn. The first challenge was mapped out at Castro's dining room table. Planning now takes place in an office on Breezewood Avenue.

In Castro's office, there are photographs from throughout his military career. Images of him with President George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth II and a sword given to him by Ross Perot.

Castro said he hopes more than veterans will compete. "We wanted to do something that appeals to everybody," he said. "We want people to leave challenged, but have a good time."

Article from the Fayetteville (NC) Observer by Military editor Drew Brooks

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