National Veterans Wheelchair Games Athlete: Shaun Castle
Hometown: Elmira and Buffalo, New York
Current location: Birmingham, Alabama
Military Branch/Years of Service: Army/4 ½
Years at NVWG: 5
2017 Events: basketball, softball, discus, javelin, shot put and swimming 50 yard butterfly and 100 yard freestyle
Coming from a military family, Shaun Castle always planned on enlisting in the Army. He just planned on going to college first. An athlete from an early age, he had basketball scholarships lined up when he blew out his knee late in high school. With college postponed, Shaun joined the Army just shy of his 19th birthday. A few years into his service, he got thrown from a Humvee during a training accident, hit his lower back against the brush guard, cracked two vertebrae and herniated three discs. Two spinal surgeries later, Shaun met Anthony Seale from Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“I woke up after my second surgery and there was Anthony. He said, ‘Shaun, I’m from the Paralyzed Veterans of America, my name is Anthony Seale. You don’t have to worry anymore. We’re going to take care of you.’ Since that day they’ve been like an angel on my shoulder.”
Flash-forward a few years and Shaun had a near-fatal allergic reaction to his pain medication. Unable to take any pain killers, a physical therapist suggested Shaun try adaptive sports. She referred him to the Lakeshore Foundation, a physical rehabilitation and Paralympic training facility close to Shaun’s home in Birmingham, Alabama. The moment he saw the Paralympic banners, Shaun decided he would become a Paralympic athlete, and began training and participating in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
“Sports has always been a constant. I was an athlete from very young. I have two older brothers and four older sisters. I never lacked for people to play baseball or basketball with me. I’ve always been driven and will practice and work ad nauseam. That work ethic has stuck with me throughout my life. If you want something you have to work at it. When I started adaptive athletics, I had the same mentality. Talent doesn’t always beat hard work if hard work works harder than talent. You may be more talented than me, but I’m going to outwork you.”
That dedication and determination would eventually bring Shaun to the University of Alabama, where he’s currently finishing his degrees in modern media and leadership while also playing on the UA wheelchair basketball team.
“I play for the University of Alabama and it is a dream come true. It is literally what I thought I lost when I blew out my knee and couldn’t go to college. I thought I’d go to college first and then go into the Army but I ended up doing it in reverse. I was able to still have that moment in my life because of adaptive athletics and the Wheelchair Games.”
Shaun’s involvement with The Crimson Tide won’t end with graduation. During a photo shoot with Mike Mouron, Chairman of Capstone Real Estate Investments and UA alum, Shaun talked to him about adaptive sports on campus. Twenty minutes later, Mouron and his wife had become the largest donors to the University for its plans to build world-class training facility and arena dedicated to adaptive athletics, including an NCAA regulation game venue for wheelchair basketball. With its completion in late fall 2017, University of Alabama will be the first school in the country to have an arena dedicated strictly to collegiate adapted athletics.
“I’m very proud to have been the catalyst for the arena. Perception is reality and on the University of Alabama campus, sports is king. To have our own arena and know that I was part of a legacy left to be viewed as legitimate athletes, it’s a huge step forward and a huge thing for me personally. To bring adaptive sports front and center and say these aren’t wheelchair athletes, these are athletes who happen to be in wheelchairs. It is a huge thing for me.”
So who would this competitive, driven, star athlete want to go one-on-one with on the court?
“You’ve got to give me two! The greatest player I’ve ever seen is Michael Jordan. I grew up when Jordan was at his height. No one was driven to win like him. To get to play one-on-one with a guy who doesn’t just love to win but hates to lose; to be on the court with a guy who has that much passion, who’s that driven, that intense…I’d lose, of course, but it’d be unbelievable! The other is probably the greatest all-around player—and he’s out of Cincinnati—Oscar Robertson. The Big O. Mr. Triple-Double. Absolutely, Oscar Robertson.”
After graduation, Shaun and his wife Stephanie will move to France or Germany while Shaun plays professional wheelchair basketball. Upon returning to the U.S., Steph will continue teaching kindergarten and Shaun plans to pursue other avenues helping veterans.
“I want to find the best way to make a difference and actually help people, help vets, help Paralyzed Veterans. I’ve got a year, though, before I have to decide what I’m going to do when I become an adult!”