"Have you ever skied before?"

“No. But I never ran a marathon before I did it, either.”

He went on to train in Norway and Iceland. He formed a friendship with Prince Harry and several other members of the expedition. He was always upbeat, but I could tell that he was having trouble dealing with the cold.

Then came November. Ivan left for England and the hoopla before the expedition, But all the media attention, the press conferences, and the interviews were clearly distractions. He wanted to get into the race.

More than a month went by before I heard from him again, talking by phone from South Africa a few days before Christmas. His voice was hoarse and he was talking about food, something he almost never does.

It wasn't until a few months later, when I heard the tapes he had made of the trip, that I realized how great an ordeal it had been. Ivan never had talked about quitting anything in the year and a half I'd known him. But thought he didn't say a lot in the voice recordings he made every night, his despair at that point in the trip was obvious. 

Photo by Jeff Goulding

I first met Ivan Castro in the fall of 2012. American Sniper had come out earlier that year, and a friend of a friend sent me an email telling me how much she had liked it.

Then she added that she knew another person I should write about, a blind marathon runner, Major Ivan Castro. 

A couple of things interested me about his story. There was the fact that he ran marathons. As someone who was a sometime sprinter in my early high school days, the distance alone scares me. How do you do it blind?

Then there was his fight to stay in the Army. We rarely think about the consequences of serious injury to a serviceman’s career before. It’s not part of our consciousness about soldiers. When someone gets wounded, we just assume that they want to go home when they’ve recovered. They've done their duty; now's their time to rest.

But obviously that's not true in every case.  Why leave the Army just because you've gotten seriously injured? True, if the injury is severe enought, it's unlikely you 


Jim DeFelice on Working with Major Castro

When I realized how important the trip had been for him, I started rearranging the outline for the book. I think it was then that we both started to realize how important teamwork has been to his life, both in and out of the Army. And about how he has come to rely so heavily on others to get his newest goals accomplished.

For a guy who was on an A Team, relying on others is both strange and familiar. Strange, because to get to that stage of your military career you have to demonstrate incredible resourcefulness and achieve a great deal. Familiar, because what is an A Team but a group of people who depend very heavily on each other?
 can handle a combat infantry job, but there are a lot of jobs in the military far removed from combat.

We started talking regularly, while both of us continued to meet other commitments. The book project simmered along on a very low flame.

Ivan kept running. He was at the Boston Marathon in 2013 when the terrorists struck; fortunately, he was not near the finish line when the bomb went off. And a few months after that, as we’ve described here, he entered himself in the competition to go to the South Pole with the Walking With the Wounded veterans charity.

You have to know Ivan to really appreciate how huge a leap that was. While he was  born in the New York area -- probably one of the reasons we bonded -- he spent a great deal of his childhood in Puerto Rico. That's warm. And he likes it that way. He thinks winter at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is fierce.  So when he told me he was training for the South Pole, I was surprised, to put it politely.

"What the hell are you going to do at the South Pole?" I asked.

"Race. Prince Harry's going, and we're going to beat the pants off his team."