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By Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer and Brandon Wright, Times Correspondent
Published February 11, 2008
[Brian Cassella | Times]
TAMPA - Seventeen months ago, Iraq War veteran Ivan Castro was in a Maryland hospital bed, devoid of eyesight and clinging to life.
Sunday, he was clinging to the arm of a Navy officer as he ran all 13.1 miles of the Gasparilla Distance Classic half marathon.
"The Lord up above," Castro said, "spared me for a reason."
If the applause and handshakes Castro received at the finish line were any sign, one of those reasons was to inspire.
Castro, 40, was nearly killed Sept. 2, 2006, on a rooftop in southwest Baghdad. He had just relieved fellow soldiers when an 82-millimeter mortar landed 5 feet to his left. The fragments blinded him, shattered his nose and right cheekbone and left him with a collapsed lung and pulmonary embolism, among other injuries.
"He was in the hospital at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, and some of the nurses had mentioned that they had just run in the Marine Corps Marathon (in Washington D.C.)," said Evelyn Galvis, Castro's wife of six years. "And when he heard that, he was like, 'You know what? By around this time next year, I'm going to be running that as well.'
"So he made the mental goal that he was going to get himself out of that bed, learn to walk again and make it so he could actually run the Marine Corps Marathon."
He did and has completed four other distance races - including Sunday's - since.
Eric Olson, who wouldn't disclose his rank, served as Castro's guide in Sunday's half marathon, which he completed in 1:50:38.
"I really have to take advantage of the time I've got left here and try to make the best out of it; enjoy it as much as I can," said Castro, who remains on active duty as a first lieutenant despite his blindness. "Running, believe it or not, I just love it. Just the feeling that I felt coming up here made me feel alive."
INSPIRING TALE, PART II: The legendary father-son tandem of Dick and Rick Hoyt completed the half marathon, etching yet another chapter in their poignant story that spans more than a quarter-century.
When oxygen was cut off to Rick's brain during his birth in 1962, doctors told his parents there would be no hope for his development. By 1975, however, he was attending school and communicating with an interactive computer that allowed him to convey his thoughts through head movements.
That same year, Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair through a 5-mile benefit run. Since then, they have competed in nearly 1,000 races, including six Ironman triathlons. When they run, Dick pushes Rick in his wheelchair. When Dick swims, Rick sits in a boat pulled by his 67-year-old dad. When Dick bikes, Rick sits in the seat pod from his wheelchair.
Sunday, they completed the half marathon in 1:51:39. The inscription on the wheels of Rick's chair: "It's a Good Life."
RUNNING IN THE DARK: Daytona Beach's Stuart Patterson was first in the men's half marathon in 1:11:40. The Embry Riddle junior, an NAIA All-America Scholar Athlete, overtook the leader at about the 9-mile mark and didn't look back.
"I came out kind of conservative and figured if I passed (the leader), then I passed him," Patterson said. "But then I saw the (pace car's) blinking lights and went for it, and it worked out from there."
Patterson, running in his first Gasparilla Distance Classic, said the 6 a.m. start time worked to his advantage.
"I like running in the dark because it helps my focus," he said. "I just got in the zone, and it was a nice morning to run, weather-wise."
Longwood's Nathan Adams (1:12:23) finished second and Temple Terrace's Steven Mandel(1:13:15) third.
[Last modified February 10, 2008, 21:43:05]