Tri Challenge: Reinventing my world
January 12th, 2012
07:38 AM ET

Tri Challenge: Reinventing my world

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.

Up until this point in my life, I had never really experienced a moment that was so heartbreaking.  I couldn’t finish out my senior year (including  the NCAA tournament) or play in my senior game, and the chances of me walking across the stage at graduation looked slim.  I wish I knew then, how little all these things would matter to me in the months to come.

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.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Nina Lovel

    Denise, your story is amazing and it is now your turn to pay it forward as you become the inspiration for thousands of others to overcome challenges and take responsibility for their own health, happiness, and lives. Expect from this day forward that strangers will come up and tell you their stories of how you've inspired them. The circle becomes complete as those stories then inspire YOU even more. You will never grow tired of hearing them. Eyes on ya, girl–go get 'em!

    January 12, 2012 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Rick Morris

    You go, Denise! I can't wait to meet you in Atlanta. I'm very proud to be part of this team with you by our side.

    January 13, 2012 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Denise

    What an inspirational story! This will be a journey that will show all that watch that there are no excuses whatsoever for not trying to attain a goal.
    I had wanted to be a participant on the team but there is no way that I could hold a candle to the sheer grit , determination and strength that you have already shown. Will be following you and your team mates from now until you cross the finish line!

    January 14, 2012 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Peter F

    What a great story. I am glad you have overcome what had happened. Stories like this help me keep up my own hard work and get fit.

    January 14, 2012 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Minis

    Hell yeah! I sometrd the field! It was an amazing game! I remember my dad texting me saying we were leaving if OSU scored again, almost immediately ISU scored and I? replied: not gonna happen

    February 1, 2012 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
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  9. Gloria Louzao

    You are amazing, heard you at TRI2015 and you moved me to tears. As the mother of a teenager I can only hope she faces life challenges the way you have.

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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.