In Colorado Springs, an 11-year-old boy explains why he attended the 2012 Warrior Games.
“I came here to see my hero,” he said, chest puffed out. “Superman can dodge a bullet, but my dad can actually take one. He is better than Superman. He is a real hero.”
His father, 47-year-old retired Navy Petty Officer Jim Castaneda, may indeed be more powerful than a locomotive. The El Paso, Texas, native inspired everyone, including his son Jef, when he finished a 20 kilometer bicycle race with only one leg and one tire.
Wounded in combat three times, Castaneda survived multiple explosions that caused severe traumatic brain injury. In 2007, he survived a series of strokes that left him with significant paralysis. Today he can’t feel anything on the right side of his body.
Because of his injuries, he was racing a seated, recumbent bicycle, with his right arm and leg taped to the frame to keep them from getting injured. He would operate the cycle with one leg, one arm and one big superhero heart.
His wife and son cheered as he shot from the starting line—faster than a speeding bullet. It was the first time his family had ever seen Jim compete at the Warrior Games.
But it wasn’t long before Jim realized something was very wrong with his bike. After he rounded the first turn, an official approached on a motorcycle and pointed out that his left tire had gone completely flat.
“A lesser guy would have quit,” said his coach, retired Navy Master Chief Will Wilson. “But Jim doesn’t know the meaning of the word.”
Castaneda waived off the official and put his cycle into the lowest gear possible. Each revolution took everything out of his left thigh. Each hill proved more and more difficult to crest. When his leg finally began to tremble, more officials rode up on motorcycles. They asked twice more if he would like to stop, and twice more he waived them off.
“I swear—at times, I wanted to quit,” said Castaneda. “I’ll be honest I wanted to quit. But every time I felt the urge, I thought of my teammates and I thought about my son. I wanted to prove to my son that we always finish what we start. We never quit.”
As he rounded the final turn, Castaneda was nearly unconscious—blacking out from exhaustion. His teammates ran onto the track cheering as they jogged beside him for the final 500 meters of the race. It seemed to take every bit of his superhero strength, but Castaneda felt he couldn’t stop until he made it across the finish line where his loving wife and admiring son were waiting.
“I didn’t have a choice,” said Castaneda. “This was bigger than me. If I was to quit, then it would be OK for anyone—my son, the Navy, America—to quit. But it’s not OK. We do not quit.”
As he crossed the finish line the entire Warrior Games audience erupted in applause. The other competitors made their way to the finish line to shake the hand of this incredibly courageous athlete.
“He may not have feeling in much of his body,” said Wilson, “but I know where he does have feeling—that’s in his heart. He’s got the heart of a hero, and we all felt it beat that day.” – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer
This Father’s Day, salute the superhero dad in your life while supporting the troops with a gift from the USO Father’s Day Wishbook.