Gelcys Castaneda: The Runner Unleashed #ICANIWILL

I CAN. I WILL. Spotlight

Gelcys was told she would never run again at age 14. Now, she’s ramping up for the Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge, a 39.3 mile back-to-back half-marathon and marathon(!).



This is her story

“Cheetah G,” as she’s known to her family and friends, was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 14 years old. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, and the diagnosis came with other news: she required immediate corrective surgery. The worst part? Doctor’s assured that she could never run again. As an avid runner, this was devastating news.


After 14 hours on the operating table the surgery was a success. But six months after, disaster struck. Literally. In the form of a rear-end car accident. All the hard work came crashing down as the implanted metal rods in her spine were forced from her back, requiring emergency surgery. Years of physical therapy and two additional surgeries later -- Gelcys now has a fused back, misaligned hips, a left leg that is a full 1 inch shorter than the right, a prominent scar and chronic pains that won’t go away.

Oh, and she still has severe Scoliosis.

Made stronger

Gelcys is known among her support team as “the one who fights the biggest battles," because she has learned to never shy away from a challenge. In her words,


"The most important part in my journey has been to believe in myself. Many doubt my abilities. But, I am very determined and very focused on my goals. What keeps me going is knowing that I can do it. I KNOW I will do it. I am not the fastest, best runner out there but I am out there. I have to work twice as hard but I will never give up. Giving up is not an option."


She doesn't allow herself the possibility to give up or give in. When you don't have any alternatives, the choice is simple: there's only one way to proceed, and that is forward. Gelcys focuses on what she can control, and demonstrates that you are not defined by the circumstances or situation, but rather, by how you respond to it. 



A life changer

Gelcys lives a path that can be emulated by anyone: It’s a story of ambition, resilience, and persistence -- all things inside you, and which you can use to pursue your own goals. We wanted to learn more about Gelcys' journey, so we sat down to chat with her:


CogniTea: Why did you want to start running?

Gelcys: "I wanted to start running because it was a challenge. It was something that I had struggled with for years. On the road to recovery, I started out running 200 meters, and I would get wiped out.

It takes a lot of hard work, but going from a few hundred meters to completing a marathon is a MAJOR life changer. Running is something I could control. My curved spine and chronic pains that come with it had a mind of its own. But running, I did that under my power."


What have been some of the harder moments in your training?

"Breathing is the hardest part. Since my spine is curved in a way that limits the air capacity in my lungs, I can only take short small breaths. When I start to hit double digit miles my back starts to go numb on my right side. Due to all the surgeries, there is extensive muscle damage that has left me with little to no muscle there. It takes a few training runs until my back is well enough to continue."


How do you motivate yourself to go out on that run when you’re hurting all over, to take that next step?

"It sounds weird but I am ALWAYS excited about going for a run. Each time I head out I have a goal in mind, whether it’s a certain pace, distance, or just surviving. I always have something to look forward too each time I lace up. I don’t always have a good run -- and when I don’t, instead of beating myself up, I take a look of at my motivational wall and see all my hard work hanging there. Seeing everything I’ve done. It gives me what I need to get out there the next day and do it again.

Physically, I get through my obstacles using KT Tape. Its an adhesive non medicated tape you apply on injuries, or areas prone to injuries to help support, control pain, and it speeds up recovery."




Lessons Learned:

  • Believe in yourself: 

    "I will not lie, when I started running I was intimidated by the half-marathon number. I thought 13.1 miles was insane! But I crossed the finish line. I continued on to complete my first full marathon -- and it was the turning point of my life. I ran with pain the last 6 miles. It was a mixture of tears and sweat running down my face. Once I made that finish line I knew I was unstoppable."


      • Support teams


      "Finding people who are doing the same things you are is a great way to find positive support. When I first starting running, I couldn’t find anyone with my pains, struggles, and obstacles. I stopped being private about my Scoliosis, started a blog, and low and behold, there were many others with my problems and thanked me for giving them a voice.

      Today, I have a MASSIVE support team and I am grateful for each and everyone...[they are] always the first ones to congratulate me and let me know how proud of me they are. I wouldn’t have made it this far without them.

      Also, Alpha, my husband, Rafael, is my #1 supporter! He helps me train and pushes me when I am tired or feel weak. He has been by my side at each race, he has never failed to show his support and show how proud he is of my accomplishments."

      • Have fun


      "I’m pretty sarcastic and my husband is a major goofball, and is as sarcastic as they come. He encourages me with laughter and will say silly things to make me forget about my pain and re-focus myself on the current challenge."

      • Lead by example


      "When I first started running, many were weary. The normal questions: “Will it hurt you?” “Can you do it?” “What about your back?”

      Once they realized that I was going to run no matter what, they stopped being afraid for me, and started being proud of me."





      What advice do you have for others to take action towards their goals?

      "Yes, it’s going to be tough and many people will want to give up, but DON’T! The reward is worth it! The satisfaction of knowing you’ve reached your goal lasts forever!

      To get started:

      "Pick a REALISTIC goal. Do you want to run a marathon one day? Start easy. Start training for a 5K and work your way up. There will be pains and injuries, but is that an excuse to give up? NO WAY!!! Find a solution to the problem and keep going. You’ll reach the top. I did and I’m still climbing."



      What’s next for you? What can the #ICANIWILL community help you with?

      "The thing I need most and need your help with is your support!! I rely a lot on support and positive messages from others. I often play back conversations and messages from my support team in my head while running. What got me through the tough part of the marathon was thinking of all the messages I had received the night before."

      Also, I am currently training for two races. One is the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in November. It’s my 3rd half marathon and I am going for speed on this one.

      I am also training for the Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge in January. It’s a half-marathon and full back-to-back. You have no idea how pumped I am for these two races. Both will be challenging and both will be rewarding. I can’t wait!!!"

      Connect with Gelcys

      Gelcys has shared her story with thousands of people in hopes to inspire them to chase after their dreams. What are you working towards? What do you want to achieve? Share your dreams with Gelcys at Runner Unleashed, on Facebook, or Twitter!



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