ABR Story

Warren Castleberry ‘Time To Run’

By: Juan Villa, jfvilla@visaliatimesdelta.com

Debbie Castleberry said when her husband realizes he can do the same as everyone else, he’s going to look around and see he’s inspiring people.

That was more than a year ago. If you ask Warren Castleberry today, he’s definitely looked around.

“I’m absolutely at that point,” he said. “Every time I go out and train and at every race I have done, I have people that come up to me and tell me what an inspiration I am and how they’re so happy to see someone overcoming their disability.”

The 51-year-old living in Tulare and working in Visalia lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident about 10 years ago, but the last couple of years he has finally come to realize he’s a “heck of a lot stronger” than he thought he was.

Five half-marathons completed on a walking leg in the last year prove it.

“Looking back five years ago my thoughts are, I wish you were strong enough to quit feeling sorry for yourself earlier,” he said. “You would have been able to make a difference in so many other lives. I’m just sorry it took me so long to realize the truth behind what’s possible in life.”

Castleberry has learned if there’s something that intimidates you and you think you can’t do it, that’s the very thing you should do. You’ll find out you can do it.

The mindset helped Castleberry complete last year’s End of the Trail Half Marathon in 3 hours and 28 minutes using his Freedom Innovations Plié 2.0 knee, which he says wasn’t necessarily made for high-energy activity.

Inspired by a Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register article on Castleberry’s journey to complete his first half-marathon in April 2014, Freedom Innovations provided him with an Agilix Foot for higher activity.

“They gave me a different foot because they saw I was actually doing the marathons,” he said. “…that made me even faster. They did that at no charge. They saw what I was doing, wanted to support amputees that were active so they shipped me a new foot.”

Even though he completed the half-marathons, triathlons still seemed like an unrealistic goal, especially without legs designed for running and cycling.

“My thought process was, it would be very difficult to do,” he said. “As soon as I heard myself say that, I told myself, well that’s what you need to attack.”

Time to run

After reading about his journey, in came Amputee Blade Runners, ABR, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville that helps provide free running prosthetics for amputees.

Running prosthetics are not covered by insurances and considered “not medically necessary,” according to ABR.

Their goal is to provide a running prosthesis to one athlete in all 50 states by 2016. Since being founded in 2011, they’ve helped 56 athletes in 28 states.

After an extensive interview process, Castleberry became the first from California to receive a sponsorship from ABR.

“One of the big things was Warren just seemed very driven,” said Trey Barclay, ABR’s executive director . “He had already done many half marathons on his walking leg, he was walking with a fast pace and nothing was really slowing him down except for not having the equipment he needs to start jogging and running.”

Barclay said the extensive interview process also showed Castleberry is a very dedicated individual.

“If we’re going to spend thousands of dollars and at least 40 to 50 man hours when someone comes into town, we want to make sure they’re the right fit and the right candidate and that they’re going to continue to use that running leg to better themselves and other people as well,” he added. “It’s a big thing for us to find the right people if we’re only going to help about 25 people a year.”

Castleberry was flown to Nashville to be fitted for a Nitro Running Foot and left with more than he ever expected, three different prosthetic setups, for running, cycling and walking. Amputee Blade Runners went beyond anyone’s expectations, Castleberry said.

Barclay said it’s on a per-person basis depending on what ABR sees their needs are.

“Every amputee doesn’t bike, so that’s one where Warren stood out,” he said. “All we want is for people to pay it forward and help other people. It seems like he’s already doing that and it’s great.”

Castleberry said he has the desire to do things for other people, ABR has the desire to do things for amputees, so it was a meeting of the minds. The two were already on the same page.

“I don’t want to let them down, but more importantly I don’t want to let myself down and I don’t want to let other people down,” he added. “It wasn’t necessarily that I had to meet their expectations, I think we were already on the same level and now the two of us coming together is a complete dynamic situation. We’re really of the same mindset and have the desire to help people.”

The trip also provided an opportunity for Castleberry to speak to running and walking classes at Belmont University in Nashville about ABR. He also left Nashville as the ABR California Ambassador.

The current battles

The battle in the beginning was all mental, now it’s the battle anyone who starts running faces, simply getting physically fit.

The two battles currently taking place are getting ready for the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon with Team In Training and helping organize a fundraiser with his wife for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The Inaugural Kevin Chabiel Music Festival takes place May 16 at the International Agri-Center in Tulare.

Chabiel, a Tulare musician, died last year of pancreatic cancer. The idea for the music festival was formed during the reception after Chabiel’s funeral, where friends and family began to play music in his honor.

Debbie Castleberry asked her husband, who played with Chabiel in junior high, “wouldn’t it be neat if we could do this every year in honor of Kevin? To keep his legacy alive.”

“Kevin was near and dear to so many people,” Debbie Castleberry said. “His music left behind a legacy that honors his heart and soul and passion for all kinds of music. This will be an evening of many kinds of music.”

Those donating their time and performing include Califas, The Charades, Rene Emilio, The Heat, Landes Dung, Eddie Hernandez, 3 & The Machines with Gina Taylor and DJ Beatrock.

Pride Electric of Visalia and J.D. Heiskell & Co. of Tulare are the main sponsors for the event. Chabiel delivered grain for Heiskell for 23 years. In his obituary, family jokingly said it was during his free time from music.

Future festivals will benefit music scholarships like the Tulare Union High School Kevin Chabiel Music Scholarship.

Warren Castleberry using his running leg at Plaza Park in Visalia on Monday, May 4, 2015. (Photo: Ron Holman)

A final speed walk

As for Warren Castleberry, the half-marathon in San Diego with his wife will be the last he speed walks. It’s all running — and cycling if he can get a new bike — starting in June.

“She’s enjoying it because she knew all of this was possible. Her vision was so far ahead that I couldn’t see that far ahead. She saw it all along,” he said. “My wife is literally by my side every step of the way. She has always been there.”

It wasn’t long ago that Castleberry just wanted to walk, now he’s doing that and more and helping others do it, too.

“Now I’m thinking I’m going to do a triathlon. I don’t want to just do a half-marathon,” he said. ” I want to swim, bike, and run. I want to push myself even more. I’m not as limited as I originally thought. I’m finding there are no limits.