Wheelchair racer Andrew Houghton and Army Capt. Ivan Castro exchange best wishes prior to the start of the Air Force Marathon Sept. 20 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Captain Castro, who is blind as a result of combat injuries sustained in Iraq, ran tethered alongside Lt. Col. Fred Dummar. Both special forces officers are assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C. Mr. Houghton is chairperson for the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. (U.S. Air Force photo/Al Bright)
Runners and wheel marathoners honor the playing of the national anthem and arrival of the American flag via a parachutist during the Air Force Marathon opening ceremonies Sept. 20 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo/Al Bright)
by Derek Kaufman
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
9/22/2008 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) -- A paralyzing injury from a motorcycle crash at age 20 took away Andy Houghton's ability to use his legs, but he still finished his first marathon Sept. 20.
Mr. Houghton from Hollywood, Fla., completed the 26.2 mile 12th annual Air Force Marathon piloting a sleek handcycle equipped with a derailleur and other components.
Always someone who loved sports, encouragement from people Mr. Houghton works with and for was his inspiration to enter the race. He currently serves in a position appointed by President George W. Bush as chairperson for the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, an independent federal agency.
More familiarly known as AbilityOne, the program provides employment opportunities for people who are blind or have other severe disabilities. Mr. Houghton said disabled people provide more than $2 billion in products and services to the federal government. With 43,000 employees, AbilityOne is the largest employer for the severely disabled in the U.S.
AbilityOne tries to match skills for people across the entire spectrum of disabilities. Veterans with traumatic brain injury, one of the signature injuries of the current war, are among those who find employment via the program, Mr. Houghton said.
Now 42 years old, Mr. Houghton said he gets great personal satisfaction through sports and exercise and hopes his competing in the marathon will encourage others with disabilities to surprise themselves.
"If I can show some of the folks in our program that I can do a marathon, I hope it will inspire them to try something new and out of their comfort zone," he said. "Sports is one of the greatest motivators for people with disabilities."
As with many first-time marathoners, Mr. Houghton said he felt he ran into a brick wall in the latter part of the race, especially as the temperature rose under the sunny sky.
"At around mile 23, I was pretty tapped out. My right hand was completely numb," he said.
But encouragement from volunteers at hydration stations and fans along the course really motivated him to keep up the pace, he said.
"It was great to take part in this event. It was also great to come on base, meet with Gen. Bruce Carlson (the Air Force Materiel Command commander) and see how our program is making a difference ... by giving disabled people an opportunity to both learn new skills and give back to the military," Mr. Houghton said.
Another person who wouldn't let a disability slow him down was Army Capt. Ivan Castro. He lost his eyesight as a result of combat injuries sustained in Iraq.
Captain Castro, assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C. finished the Air Force Marathon an unofficial time of 4:16:52. Running alongside him every step of the way was Fred Dummar, an Army lieutenant colonel who commands the Special Operations Recruiting Unit at Fort Bragg.
Captain Castro said this was his first Air Force Marathon, but it definitely will not be his last. The Solider has made running long-distance races a key part of his therapy after a mortar round exploded next to him in Iraq on Sept. 2, 2006, leaving him, among other serious injuries, totally blind.
He decided to travel to Wright-Patterson AFB with his wife, Evelyn Galvis, and run in the Air Force Marathon in part because he does most of his training at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., adjacent to Fort Bragg. He thought it would also provide a good baseline pace time for his next big race, the Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 26 in Arlington, Va.
"I know the Pope Gym like the back of my hand," Captain Castro said. "The Airmen there are fantastic."
He acknowledged another reason he was honored to run in the Air Force Marathon was Airmen were always there with "top cover" close-air support for coalition ground forces "whenever we needed them."
"This is a team fight. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for everyone who helped put me back together. I'm very grateful," he said.
Captain Castro's wife said she hopes his running will inspire other servicemembers with debilitating combat injuries to find the inner strength to adapt and overcome them.
"I want them to know if Ivan can do it, so can they," she said.
His training partner, Colonel Dummar, said Captain Castro's optimism and strength in the face of adversity are infectious.
"It's an honor to run with him," Colonel Dummar said. "I think I get a lot more out of this than he does."