On Monday, April 14, 2017, Boston will host the 121st Boston Marathon for thousands of runners coming from all around the world. The oldest marathon in the country has a significant history that brings competitors to complete the 26.2 mile course for a variety of reasons. This year 10 of these runners chose to run for homeless children and their families.
We sat down with one of our runners, Brian Castellanos, to learn more about why he decided to run for Horizons and his experience with the process.
Why did you decide to run the Boston Marathon?
My decision to run the Boston Marathon was initially sparked during my years spent during undergrad at Framingham State University. Marathon Monday has always been an extraordinary experience for me. The first time I was able to witness this in real time left a lasting footprint on my life. The look on those runners’ faces displayed tremendous focus and determination; true road warriors. Running long distance was above my comfort zone but I started imagining myself running in the Boston Marathon. Most of my years athletically were spent competing on the football field. I played free safety at Framingham State University. My last year playing college football was the Fall of 2012. This wasn’t supposed to be my last football season. I was due to graduate undergrad the fall of 2013. I had one more year of eligibility. Unfortunately, a series of events would change the trajectory of my life forever.
On April 15th 2013, the marathon bombing had transpired. My spirit was left shattered but what happened after those gloomy days was astonishing. I had made a vow to myself that I will participate in the next Boston Marathon. Taking this new endeavor on was going to take a great amount of determination and effort but I knew deep down in my heart that it needed to happen. Tragically, this newly discovered endeavor was cut short.
On June 3rd 2013, my life changed overnight. I woke up to misfortune; I had fallen asleep at the wheel and was left broken. My body had to be removed by the Jaws of Life. I broke my hip, had several broken ribs, lacerations on face and head and a punctured lung. I went in and out of consciousness that morning. I remember being told that I was being rushed to emergency surgery to stabilize my internal bleeding caused my fractured ribs. I kept blacking out; this never happened to me before. When I came to, I was lying in my hospital bed at Boston Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit with IV’s and tubes hanging from my body. Doctors came in to see me and informed me that I was busted up very bad in a car accident. Doctors asked me if I was aware of my circumstances and I responded to him that I wasn’t sure. I asked my doctor how long I will be out of football because I would like to make it back in time for the playoffs. I informed my doctor that I was going to run the Boston Marathon as well. My doctor said, “I hate to tell you Mr. Castellanos but your chances of achieving full mobility or walking without assistance is not likely. You tore some nerves and dislocated and fractured your hip and leg significantly.” Not only was my football career over, but basic functions like walking, going up stairs, and moving around on my own was questionable. Laying helplessly in your hospital bed puts life into true perspective. Many of the dreams and goals I had were crushed.
My doctor informed me of a surgery that would increase my chances of walking again but had tremendous risk involved. Due to the layout of nerve damage and fractures with my injury, that surgery would put me at risk for bleeding out or permanently damaging my injury. I signed up and agreed to do that surgery. I spent three weeks in the Intensive Care Unit. All I could think about were those words from by my doctor.
What the doctor didn’t know was how determined of an individual I was. I was going to prove him wrong. My road to recovery was not easy and it was very painful. But that pain made me who I am. It created who I had to become. I made a promise to myself. That promise was that I will not give up on my dream of running the Boston Marathon and that I will make a difference in the lives of others.
After deciding you wanted to run the marathon, what made you choose Horizons as an organization to run for?
After my accident, I made the decision to pursue my Masters Degree. My near-death encounter gave me perspective on how fragile life can be. During graduate school I made it my mission to find an organization where I could volunteer my time to make a difference. I always loved helping and working with kids. I was referred to Horizons from a friend of mine who volunteered at one of their Playspaces. What stood out to me was Horizons’ mission statement. The reason this stood out to me so much was because I too was homeless. In fact, I was declared an unaccompanied youth my senior year of high school after losing a brother to cancer. I was living out of my car and bouncing around friends’ houses. I could never imagine that children had to go through these horrible conditions. I had the opportunity to volunteer as a Playspace Activity Leader. The children I encountered during my three years volunteering were strong spirited. I remember seeing these kids’ faces glow when I would show up to my shift to play and hang out with them.
After seeing firsthand what Horizons does for these children, I wanted to give back in a larger way. I found out that Horizons had a team a year after my accident but just missed the deadline for sign ups. I was told that I would have to try again the following year. This was great timing considering I was finishing up with graduate school at Salem State University and had limited time. When I graduated in the spring of 2016, I took the first step and called Horizons to find out about next year’s bib number. Although they just finished up for 2016, they informed me that somebody from the organization will be in touch with me. That’s when I started telling everyone that I will be running the Boston Marathon. I started with 5ks and worked my way up to a half marathon. These were all new experiences for me and really drove me to keep pushing forward with running for the Horizons marathon team.
I was holding up a piece of artwork I did with a 7 year girl at a shelter in Peabody. The program director framed that art piece and gave it to me on my last shift. I share my experiences as a PAL with everyone.
How did you go about fundraising your goal for this marathon?
I developed a comprehensive fundraising campaign. I started with my own network initially (family, friends etc). I created three levels of sponsorships which targeted local business owners from my home town. This led me to additional donors and ultimately more exposure around the north shore. I utilized all my social media accounts as advertising platforms and developed social media marketing plans for each sponsor. I would wear their gear during long runs and race events as well. Local newspapers caught on to my story and provided me with additional exposure. The Salem News did a really nice piece that covered my entire journey. I would leverage my abilities and talents with marketing and advertising to get donations or sponsorships. I developed social media campaigns for the majority of my sponsors. I researched how much they advertised and how much they spend on marketing their businesses. In addition, at the time I was newly-appointed to the Framingham State University Alumni Association Board of Directors. I was appointed to be their fundraiser director. These board position experiences have taught me new strategies that have contributed to my fundraising.
What has made the biggest impact on you while fundraising for Horizons?
The feedback that I get back from people was very motivating. People I barely knew were donating to my Crowdrise page. They would leave encouraging messages and tell me that I am making a difference. Fundraising for Horizons has changed my life for in so many ways. The perspective gained during this journey will be carried with me forever. There’s nothing better than giving back to kids. Being able to volunteer first hand and know how that money will be allocated brings me excitement. Bettering and improving the quality of those children lives has been the biggest impact while fundraising for Horizons.
What are you most excited about for when you run the marathon?
I am thrilled to represent for the Horizons for Homeless Children Boston Marathon 2017 team. The back of my shirt reads “Today I Run for Homeless Children” and that is what I will be most excited about when I run the marathon. There are many people who watched me during this process. It’s larger than myself. I want to represent for those children and those individuals who are experiencing such difficult circumstances. I would like to tell them to not give up on their dreams and that anything is possible.
If you would like to support the 2017 Run for Homeless Children Boston Marathon team this Patriots’ Day click here.