Why I don't need to cross the finish line
Denise Castelli, front right, runs with Coach Ken Burkey and teammate Carlos Solis
August 13th, 2012
12:26 PM ET

Why I don't need to cross the finish line

Editors' note: Denise Castelli is one of seven CNN viewers training to race the Nautica Malibu Triathlon with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. In 2009, Castelli had her right leg amputated below the knee after contracting an infection.

Malibu is just more than a month away, and I’m closer to the finish line than ever.

What I’ve realized is that this whole adventure is not about the finish line. For me, it’s about the journey and, let me tell you, I’ve grown exponentially in the past seven months. It's all because of triathlon.

When I began, I naively assumed what most people would about this challenge. I would lose weight, get fit, cross that finish line, and then obtain my new bragging rights as a triathlete. What I didn’t know is that along the way I’d discover who I was as a person.

I always thought I had a grip on who "Denise" was. I had done a ton of soul-searching after my amputation, but nothing compares to what I’ve learned about myself while training.

Amputee gains strength to 'tri' by sharing her story

For starters, the word “can’t” has completely dissolved from my vocabulary. I used to let the fear of failure, or the fear of not being successful, get the best of me.  It stopped me from doing so many things in my life, even before my amputation. Through my training, I've learned I'm capable of more than I ever imagined.

In February, I didn't know how to swim, I hadn't been on a bike since I was a little kid, and my running experience was limited to motoring around a softball diamond. Did my lack of knowledge scare me? Of course it did - but I didn't let it stop me. Instead of telling myself that I couldn't do any of these things, I told myself that I just hadn't learned yet. And that was the truth.

There’s something to be said about the amount of time you spend alone with yourself while training. I always considered appropriate "me" time to be hanging out in my room, listening to Radiohead.

While training, I’ve learned the importance of being inside my own head. Even when I’m at the pool, sharing a lane with three other swimmers, it’s still just me and my thoughts. It's the same when I venture out on a long ride, or during a hard run workout. It’s just me. Nobody else.

I mentally talk to myself to help get through tough training days. I’ll sort through and solve whatever problems I’m currently having in my life. I'm now able to tap into my brain and use it as a filing cabinet. Things that are important to me have been moved to the front, while the not-so-important issues get stored in the back.

In my previous blog, I wrote about how I had a realization while riding in Kona, during our training trip. I was climbing a really tough hill and I found myself unable to control my emotions. Turns out, I realized that a lot of my life pre-amputation was similar to coasting downhill. Now, my life post-amputation is all about the climb. It’s all about that uphill battle. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about yourself when you spend hours in your own mind. It’s quite beautiful.

Triathlon has even changed my thoughts on dating. I know what you're thinking, that this is crazy and it couldn't possibly be true, but it totally is. While looking back on some of my relationships, I now realize how much I was settling. Not because they weren’t good guys (though some of them weren’t) but because I was compromising what I want in a partner just for the sake of having someone.

For the first time ever, I’m not afraid to be alone. It might be because of all the time I spend by my lonesome, training, but it's more than that. I’m not afraid to stand my ground in the world of dating until I find exactly what I’m looking for (or until it finds me!). The strength and confidence that I've been able to find in myself because of triathlon is unshakable. Triathlon has opened my mind to everything I have to offer in a relationship and I want that reciprocated, no questions asked.

For a while after my amputation, I had trouble looking at my own body in the mirror. It’s hard enough being a woman and being comfortable in your own skin. Now, I was having major issues with accepting my new body post-amputation. Being scarred and right leg-less didn't feel sexy, but that has completely changed. Now when I look in the mirror, I see all the things I had forgotten about myself. I see an athlete, a woman who is driven, confident, successful -– all things that play a major part in who I am. I'm finally able to look beyond the physical. This, above all, has been my greatest feat.

I’ve never felt more in control of my mind, body, and spirit. I’ve never felt so mentally and physically strong. The drive I now have is powerful and focused. My energy is positive and my spirit is unbreakable. I never thought that triathlon would be a life changer for me. Though I’m excited to cross the finish line in Malibu, I truly don’t need to. I feel like I’ve already won the best prize this sport has to offer: a new me.

Fit Nation: 'Limitless' amputee athlete

You can find the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge on Facebook and Twitter.

soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. pound

    Wow, for some reason much of this really hit home for me. Thanks for writing!

    August 13, 2012 at 22:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Scot

    Keep going! You will cross that finish line and then immediately start looking for your next race ... Keep blogging to inspire the rest of us.

    August 13, 2012 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. trihardcarlos

    Denise, you are an amazing person!! i can't wait to celebrate crossing that finish line with you!! Awesome post : )

    August 13, 2012 at 23:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Stef

    Your writing is so inspiring and emotion-filled. Keep strong.

    August 15, 2012 at 21:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Doug

    What you are doing is wonderful. Finding a goal you think is "impossible," then surpassing it, changes the way you look at challenges the rest of your life. I'm sure you'll do great in your event, but regardless of the outcome you are much better for all your dedication and hard work. Thanks for sharing your story.

    August 16, 2012 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
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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.