When Madison Castillo was 9 months old, her parents were informed she had suffered a stroke at birth.
Madison’s entire right side was weakened, including her leg and arm. Running a pencil along her right foot, the doctor told Tara and Jerrome Castillo that their daughter might never walk, much less run.
“They put parameters around her, saying, ‘We didn’t know if she’s going to walk, if her right side would be strong enough or if she would have to spend her life in crutches or a walker,’ ” Tara Castillo recalled.
Now 18 and preparing for her senior year at Maize High School, Madison Castillo has shattered those parameters: She won a gold medal this summer in the long jump at the 2015 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships.
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The young athlete’s race to the gold began as a freshman at Maize, where she first decided to go out for track and field.
“I got bored and wanted to do something,” Madison Castillo said.
For the next few years, Castillo trained alongside able-bodied teammates, never pausing to complain or slow down.
“One thing that’s always been consistent with Maddie is, be it P.E. teachers in middle school or coaches in high school, is that they always tell me they wish their kids – their typical, able-bodied kids – would work half as hard as Maddie,” Tara Castillo said.
In May, Castillo entered the Challenge Games in Derby, an event put on by the Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports of USA. It was there that she first met Carol Keller, coach of the Free Spirits, a team for disabled athletes.
“I was just blown away by her performances and immediately began looking up the qualification standards for nationals,” Keller said.
That day, Castillo qualified for the National Championships in St. Paul, Minn.
“I got the phone call from Carol and I was like, ‘Oh, man, OK, did not expect all that,’ ” Castillo said.
The championships, held June 6-7, were an international event, with athletes from places including Mexico, Argentina and Africa. The Castillo family was intimidated.
“These people have been here and they’ve been doing this for years, and here’s Madison, so fresh and new, this is her third event, and we’re at the national championships,” Tara Castillo said.
Castillo competed in the 100- and 200-meter dashes in addition to long jump. She wasn’t planning on winning and said she just wanted to get some experience competing with elite athletes.
“I didn’t think I was going to get anything, honestly,” she said.
Castillo had just finished her 100-meter race and was in the bleachers changing shoes when she learned she had won the long jump competition.
“I held up the medal and her eyes got huge, and she flipped out and put it on,” Tara Castillo said.
Castillo said her favorite part about competing is interacting with others who share her struggles.
“Sometimes, I think that people don’t see what disabled people can do,” she said. “They can try as hard as able-bodies; they can push harder, which they do.”
Castillo’s journey didn’t stop in St. Paul; she also competed in the National Junior Disability Championship in New Jersey this month.
As for the future, while it’s too late to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Castillo said she might aim for Tokyo in 2020.
“I’m going to keep going,” she said. “I don’t stop.”
Reach Lara Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org.