We all race for a reason - this is mine
May 25th, 2012
03:23 PM ET

We all race for a reason - this is mine

Editor's note: Denise Castelli is one of seven CNN readers chosen to be a part of the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. She lost her leg to an infection following a tragic accident in a collegiate softball game.

There are moments in all of our lives when we need to stop what we're doing, take a second, look around, and soak it all in.

For me, this happened multiple times while I was training in Hawaii with the "Lucky 7." The Big Island was beyond what any words can describe and spending so much time with my teammates was unforgettable.

I learned a lot on this trip, but one thing in particular sticks out.

What I learned about triathlons during our Kona training trip was life changing. Sure, I learned technical things - like how to transition and swim more efficiently in the open water. But it's so much more than that. During this trip, right on the Queen K Highway, I learned how to release.

Ever since my amputation, I've taught myself to bottle up my emotions and to completely forget that they even exist. Sometimes when I'm alone, I'll have brief, fleeting moments where I'm reminded of what I went through and I immediately shut it down.

Not only are the memories painful, but I never saw the point in reliving all those dreadful months I spent in the hospital. Bottling everything up and stowing it away on an internal shelf somehow seemed more effective in getting on with my life. This philosophy has "worked" for me for years. I never thought a training trip to Hawaii would upend that.

If you've been to Kona and you're a triathlete, you already know all about the Queen K Highway and all her glory.

It's essentially the bike route for the Ironman World Championship, and this week I learned exactly the reason why. Not only are you riding next to hot fields of lava and cars traveling at high speeds, but the hills can be difficult to navigate ESPECIALLY with the infamous Kona head winds blowing you around on your bike. It makes climbing the hills dreadful. The wind was so bad that even when we approached a downhill or a flat part, it still felt like we were on an incline because of how much resistance we felt and how hard we still had to peddle.

We were in the middle of our 28-mile ride to the center of Kona when I began breaking down. Coach April and I had approached yet another tough hill, and all my energy was put into my peddling. For some reason, this made me drop my guard, and all those emotions that I had bottled up inside began to come out.

I was crying hysterically all the way to the top of the hill - not because I was hurt or because I was tired; there really was no explanation. Coach April asked me what was wrong and all I could do was nod my head.

She did her best to console me but how could she help me solve a problem when I didn't even know what that problem was? Everything hit me at once like a ton of bricks.

After the ride, I began to mentally dissect what happened to me. What was it about that climb that brought on all of those painful memories? And then, it came to me.

My entire life, everything was easy for me. I always seemed to be a "natural" at the things that I tried. I could play Chopin on the piano, steal second base safely 95% of the time, bowl a 279, maintain a 3.5 GPA with minimal effort - I was ALWAYS coasting downhill.

Sure, I had pushed myself a lot while I was an NCAA athlete, but nothing can compare to the amount of training I am doing for Malibu. Nothing.

I realized that after my amputation, my life had become an uphill battle. Unfortunately, there is no coasting when it comes to wearing a prosthetic. It's something I have to do day in and day out; there is NO other option. And while that can be overwhelming at times, learning to metaphorically climb the hills of my life has made me a better person - just as physically climbing hills has made me a better athlete.

Having to face all these emotions isn't something I wanted to do, nor was it something I was ready to do. But it was something I had to do. I'm thankful that I've found my new release in life: triathlon. We all race for a reason, and this is mine.

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. alcourts


    May 25, 2012 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark Glicker

      Cool story. Thank you for sharing.

      May 29, 2012 at 22:44 | Report abuse |
    • Daniel

      Denise, thank you for such an inspiring story! Im training for my first triathlon now!

      July 22, 2012 at 13:12 | Report abuse |
  2. Bernie Chin

    Your story will help me look at my climbs / life a little differently from now on. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your training.

    May 25, 2012 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. lindaluttrell

    You are beautiful! Wish I could be out there rding too! Good luck!

    May 25, 2012 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom

      Might the reason for your pepiertcon that Africa has slid be more to do with a new Government chosing not to sign up to the last lot's idealism than the supposed different prioritisation you suggest?

      August 1, 2012 at 17:48 | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    You are my hero! Made the crap in my life seemed so smaller!

    May 25, 2012 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. alagier

    Wonderful insight, Denise, and so powerfully said. love you!

    May 25, 2012 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. yolo

    One word- inspiring! Keep up the hard work!

    May 25, 2012 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. shwebell

    I hate to be a party pooper but doesn't having one less limb pose an unfair advantage in that her heart doesn't have to work as hard? I'm just saying...

    May 25, 2012 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • chrissy

      ????Are you serious in asking this. The only advantage that being an amputee gives, is that the individual is has an incredible inner strength to even dreaming of taking on this challenge. Denise and others like her are an inspiration to us all.

      May 25, 2012 at 18:34 | Report abuse |
    • geeky

      Tell you what. Why don't you train for a triathlon and then do one, and then have one of your legs removed and then do another one, and let us all know how much easier it was with 1 leg. Seriously, some people need to think before they type.

      May 25, 2012 at 19:22 | Report abuse |

    Nice job girl, what you may not realize, you inspire lots of people who are whining about a lot of insignificant stuff that has no value. Go get it.

    May 25, 2012 at 17:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. yesper

    Denise, I am always the most proud of athletes like you. I've done parts of all 3 pieces of the Ironman course in Kona (with all of my limbs)so to you....hats off! Really proud of you!

    May 25, 2012 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. TanyaB

    Wonder if she works at IHOP.

    May 25, 2012 at 17:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Natalie

      seriously... come on you're horrible

      May 25, 2012 at 22:37 | Report abuse |
    • Kandi


      May 27, 2012 at 13:57 | Report abuse |
  11. TanyaB

    Didn't think this woman had a leg to stand on, but glad she got off on the right foot.

    May 25, 2012 at 17:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. TanyaB

    Is her middle name Eileen?

    May 25, 2012 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mrdifficult

      Oh, come on. . .

      May 26, 2012 at 21:26 | Report abuse |
  13. Sam

    Best of luck in Malibu!

    May 25, 2012 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jose Cuervo

    Wow, Tanya. Thanks for taking all the good ones and leaving me no material.

    May 25, 2012 at 17:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Sam

    Ive found that in cycling and other sports that demand you to push yourself past what is normal..you sometimes get this moment of clarity. Its a pretty amazing feeling. Im glad to see you handling your problems the right way and sharing your insight with others

    May 25, 2012 at 17:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. NancyK

    Denise, thanks for sharing your raw emotions. Sounds like your emotional release during a very physical activity has opened another door for you.

    May 25, 2012 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. pixilator

    Just saying! It takes 300% more effort just to walk, let alone run or ride a bike. I am an above the knee amputee. I went through a stump revision just so I could run again. Instead they messed my leg up so badly it can not be fixed. Now walking is a challenge! You go Denise!

    May 25, 2012 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. just saying

    Just so you'll know, it take twice as much energy to use a prosthetic leg as it does a real one. Trust me, there is no advantage. Attach 10lbs. to yourself and lug that around all day and you'll see what I mean. Also, it does a number on your skin. It's like wearing a too tight shoe as big as your leg all the time. A lot of people just stand them in the corner and give up and go to a wheel chair. This girls will and determination is inspiring. .......... oh, by the way.....to you comedians.....ha ha....those are old one legged lady jokes....get some new material!!!!! peggy, eileen, ihop, .....all old stuff people.! get some imagination!!!!

    May 25, 2012 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paaulo

      As predicted above: A Mail Guardian Online reoprt quotes ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza, who said: ‘Even though the matter has been dealt with by the Public Protector, it becomes difficult to pre-empt any action. You have to be careful you don't open yourself up for litigation at a later stage and the ANC believes procedures are still being followed to the letter. An outcome will be pronounced in due course on both matters.’ But Professor Steven Friedman, director at the University of Johannesburg's Centre for the Study of Democracy, dismissed Khoza's comments, saying Zuma ‘is dragging his feet unnecessarily’. Cosatu has made several calls for immediate action against both Cele and Shiceka in order to restore confidence in the President's ability to lead the country.

      August 2, 2012 at 06:19 | Report abuse |
  19. rod kirk

    Where dose it come from u have what i need..if i lost my leg i,d think i,d put a bullet in my head....life suck already the least i can do is have my body parts..ill never know how u do the day to day to day thing..i guess some people have it other don,t..wish I could go with U on thAT THING u do..but iM too FAT..TOO DAM OLD AND SO TRIED SO DAM TIRED..GOD MADE U STRONG IN BODY AND MIND

    May 25, 2012 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. pixilator

    Amen to thinking before you type. And to those who think it is funny?? Wait until it is YOU! Bet you will be face planting instead of "leaning"!

    May 25, 2012 at 19:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. trihardcarlos

    Denise, I am so proud of you and very honored to be your teammate!! I know I've told you before, but YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION TO ME AND MY STUDENTS!! YOU GO GIRL!!!

    May 25, 2012 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • David

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      August 1, 2012 at 20:10 | Report abuse |
  22. Jeff E.

    You inspire me. It's is an honor to know you.

    May 25, 2012 at 20:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. StefGW

    Amazing. Denise, I can't wait to share your writing with a student of mine. She needed to hear that. I look forward to watching you finish!

    May 26, 2012 at 08:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LalocAapacionada

      Kevin Cannon February 23, 2011 relax about the pot thing, but the rest of it screams LOSER. and, if you don't like fihsnig, don't hang out with fishermen. you don't have to like everything the other does, but probably should be ok with their primary activities .and, a woman who professes to like sports and drinking should be pretty popular with men .loved the open, the same rant i often let loose: you really want to know about a person? road trip. even an all-day drive, though the overnight is most telling. harder to end early, though.kevin

      November 14, 2012 at 03:53 | Report abuse |
  24. Really?!

    People never fail to shock my brain with their ignorance and arrogance. Just when i think wow did they really say that...another one comes along. Theres a special place for personalities like yours and someday your going to arrive there guaranteed. As for the author of this article you are an amazing person and i hope you never give up and keep on reaching for the sky! God bless you always.

    May 26, 2012 at 09:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. szahn34

    Denise – You continue to be inspiring. What a great blog! None of us will understand the uphill battle you continue to fight. Thanks for letting us Get a glimpse of your battle.

    May 26, 2012 at 11:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Mrdifficult

    A 'tragic' softball-related amputation. That's funny stuff, hop-along.

    May 26, 2012 at 21:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. BiteADick

    Amputees and others with disadvantages are not heroes, people. Let's get over that. Everyone has different abilities and challenges. Glad this lady is doing something with her life, but she's not special and nodifferent than any of us.

    May 26, 2012 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. NeighborhoodTrainer

    Having run four marathons myself, I have a theory usually a very tough life event is what propels people to do long endurance events. It becomes a place to heal yourself, better yourself, and a place to deposit all of that nervous, pent up energy.

    May 26, 2012 at 22:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Marielaina Perrone DDS

    Great story. Good to see you still going forward and conquering physical challenges. Kudos to you!

    May 27, 2012 at 00:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Kandi

    "We all race for a reason – this is mine"

    i don't race anyone.

    May 27, 2012 at 13:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Dr.Watch

    I wonder how you move yourself when you have a prosthetic

    May 27, 2012 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Taco King

    We all eat microwaved rolled tacos with cheese and hot sauce for a reason ...

    May 27, 2012 at 21:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rick Morris

      Not all of us, Taco King. Just you and those who have no dreams and aspirations.

      May 30, 2012 at 18:20 | Report abuse |
  33. Golden Girl

    Thanks for sharing such an inspiring story!

    May 28, 2012 at 22:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Anita

    This article made my day. Thanks for sharing! Denise, you are a hero. God bless!

    May 29, 2012 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Brianna

    Hi, Im one of ms.lagier's students. You are such an inspiration to me and other athletes, Iv been told that I need to stop playing softball and let the tendons in my foot heal proplerly but there's no way I could just give up what Iv been fighting for my whole life. To hear your story and to see that you havent given up on life when you had to stop what you loved gives me hope and has inspired me to do what ever I want in life. If you can get up and make something of yourself after this has happened to you, every one should respect you. I hope that these rude people dont get to you too much, I know what its like to be made fun of through the hard times in life and its not easy. I hope you dont ever give up and dont let anything stop you. You are truely a softball inspirtation and have made me never want to stop playing the sport. Good luck in the rest of our uphill battle. I wish you all the best 🙂

    May 29, 2012 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Melizza from paleodietguru.com

    Hello Brianna,

    Go for it, go for what you want. You start it, you finish it, no matter how many failure you encountered just rise up and continue fighting.

    Well, that habit Miss. Denise is a good habit or exercise in reducing your fats, together with your sport.


    May 29, 2012 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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    September 19, 2012 at 21:57 | Report abuse | Reply
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