The day Warren Castleberry realized it was his mind that was holding him back — and not his amputated left leg — was the day a whole new life opened up to him.
It may have taken almost nine years after losing his leg in a motorcycle accident to arrive at this stage in his life, but the 50-year-old is here and is trying not to look back.
“Some people go through the [recovery] process fast, some do it slower and some may never recover from that,” he said. “But if I didn’t go through it at my pace it probably wouldn’t be a complete process and there may be setbacks. Well, I might still have setbacks but I don’t regret that at all.”
Thanks to his new mindset on life, Castleberry will speed walk the End of the Trail Half Marathon on Saturday with his Freedom Innovations Plié 2.0 knee. It’s his first half-marathon ever and it’s happening just a month and a half after he decided to participate in it.
“The reason I’m doing this is I finally came to the realization that my mind was more disabling than my body,” Castleberry said. “I have the support of my wife and family, I have a world-class prosthetist and there’s a world of technology available to me. The physical can be overcome, I realized the mental is what was limiting me.”
Recently, Castleberry decided to go for a long walk and did five miles without any pain or problems. He thought maybe he could do seven. If he could do seven, maybe he could do 10. After doing 11 miles, he has no doubt he can complete the 13.1 on Saturday.
“I know I can do it. I knew I could do it when I was watching [my wife’s] last marathon. I know my body,” he said. “I’m not saying I could have done it with ease, but I’m very confident.”
Barring any catastrophic event like leg failure or a twisted ankle, Castleberry knows he can complete the race. And he’s set on being alone on the course because it’s a very personal thing for him, although he does recognize he didn’t get to this point on his own.
“Generally speaking, people that have gone through this, they don’t make it by themselves. You need people around you. A trauma like this can take away your ability to be self-motivating. It can take away your ability to support yourself and encourage yourself. It can take away everything,” Castleberry said. “You need people around you who believe in you or even just love you enough to say ‘I’ll be there.’”
For Castleberry it’s been his wife Debbie Castleberry, family, his prosthetist Jason Schott and organizations like Team In Training. None of them ever told Castleberry to do a half-marathon, they just told him they’d be there for him.
“I’m really proud of him. He’s come so far since I’ve known him. Like changing his attitude about being an amputee and what that means, I’m just so proud of him,” Debbie Castleberry said. “I know he’s going to be an inspiration to so many people. I don’t think he can grasp that because it’s about conquering his own self right now. When he realizes he can do the same as everyone else he’s going to look around and see he’s inspiring people.”
The mental battle is almost won and while the physical battle isn’t going to stop Warren Castleberry, there are a few challenges that remain.
“This was a life and death situation when I went into the emergency room,” he said. “I had severed that femoral artery and lost so much blood that my stomach quit, my veins started collapsing, I stopped breathing on the operating table and my heart rate slowed to one beat every two seconds. I was almost gone because I had lost so much.”
Technically, Castleberry’s amputation is below the knee, but it’s so high up to the knee joint that it’s basically a knee disarticulation. He has a knee joint, but he can’t really move anything.
When he walks now, the pivot points on his knees don’t line up.
The amputation point also made it difficult for his prosthetist at Advanced Prosthetic and Orthotic Designs in Visalia to find a balance between allowing his leg to swing through and keeping it the right height.
Castleberry, the general manager at Party City in Visalia, is so active he’s gone through six prosthetic knees.
“He was adamant that he was never going to do this. ‘Don’t ever ask me to do this,’ he’d say. He was to the point about making sure I understood, not only running, but bowling, golfing and all the things he enjoyed before, that he wasn’t going to be doing those things anymore,” Debbie Castleberry said. “Now he’s really changed his thought process, grown and accepted the fact that he can do anything he sets his mind to because it’s a mind battle. It’s a battle to compete against yourself and what you think you can do.”
Once he finishes speed walking his first half-marathon — because he says he’s finishing no matter what — he wants to start swimming, cycling and running. And there’s also running with his wife.
“This is just the beginning. When you have an amputation, it’s not the end of an old life, it’s the beginning of a new life,” Castleberry said. “…just because you can’t do it the way you used to do it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. There’s a world of support out there that can help you do what you want. It’s about whether you want to do it.”