January 12th, 2012
07:38 AM ET
Every day this week, CNN will introduce you to one member of the 2012 Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge team. Today meet Denise Castelli. As a recent amputee, Denise is searching for a way to reclaim the feeling of being a competitive athlete that she cherished before her accident.
I’ve learned a lot about support over these past few years. I often stop and think to myself that I don’t know where I’d be without my family, friends, the support of my community and the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
In April 2008, I was your ordinary senior in college. Well, maybe not entirely ordinary. I was an NCAA softball player, as well as a dean’s list student at the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut. I was only looking forward to my next journey: Life after college. With graduation around the corner, I couldn’t help but think about the world of possibilities that were out there for me.
But on April 22, 2008, tragedy struck. During one of the final games of that season (and ultimately my career), I took off from first base on a steal, headed for second and broke my leg. I can still remember hearing the snap and the instant pain that I felt.
I wish I knew then what I know now.
To make the longest, most epic medical story short, I ended up with an infection in my broken leg. I would spend the next 18 months of my life battling that infection. After osteomyelitis (an acute or chronic bone infection) set in, I soon lost complete circulation in my foot. An amputation was inevitable. On November 4, 2009 I had my right leg amputated below the knee and my world, as I knew it, ended.
I wish I could tell you that the first month or so after my amputation was filled with optimism and hope, but sadly, it wasn’t. I really wanted to do nothing but lay around in my bed and cry. I had no idea which direction to take or who to even reach out to. That’s when fate stepped in and decided to make it happen.
My prosthetist had heard about a one day running/mobility clinic held by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. With nowhere else to turn and very little confidence under my belt, I went. That day changed my life. My eyes were opened to an entire world of people who were not only amputees, but also athletes in every sense of the word. From that day on, I was determined to not let this amputation beat me. I had to find a way to not just survive, but thrive.
And that’s exactly what I did.
So what does Fit Nation mean to me? In one word: EVERYTHING! It means having the life that I used to have. It means being active, being competitive, having a purpose. Though I do have some fears (okay, maybe more than some) about becoming a triathlete, I realize that they’re the same fears I had when I faced my amputation. I’ve never let the fear of the unknown stop me before and I’m not going to let that happen now.
So, yes, on November 4, 2009, my world as I knew it, did end. But the beauty of it is that an entire new world opened up to me.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.