San Diego Mesa College student Hermes Castro set sail in March for the adventure of a lifetime, where he became the first paraplegic man to tour an Antarctic glacier.
“I was told by doctors, insurance companies and other non-believers that it was possible, but we did it! I realized that anything is possible,” said Castro. “Right then I challenged myself to walk again, after my doctors had told me I would never take another step in my life.”
Castro met British explorer Robert Swan during Swan’s visit to Mesa. Castro was so inspired by Swan’s presentation about Antarctic expeditions that he told him if he had his legs back, he would want to do something just like that.
Castro, who has been in a wheelchair since a drunk driver hit him in September 2006, never thought an Antarctic expedition was possible for him. Swan knew it could be done, even in a wheelchair. He immediately invited Castro to join him on an expedition and promised to fund the trip.
Under the watchful eye of Carletta Middleton, student affairs assistant, the Mesa College student body quickly came together to help Castro with extra expenses such as airfare and special equipment and gear.
“It was so wonderful to see the students come together for such an inspirational cause,” Middleton said. “We’ve enjoyed making this adventure possible for Hermes.”
Patty Garegnani, Inter-club Council member, was instrumental in organizing fundraisers for Castro.
Local pizzeria Mountain Mike’s donated 30 percent of all proceeds December 7 to Castro’s cause. Other fundraisers included a three-day rock climbing wall event and a wheelchair three-on-three basketball game. The Associated Student Government matched all of the donated funds.
“The fundraisers began in December and we were able to reach our goal of $10,000 before Castro departed in March,” Garegnani said. “The funds from the wheelchair three-on-three basketball game earned money for a scholarship in Castro’s name to enable another outstanding disabled student at Mesa to reach their own special goal in the future.”
Castro’s 15-day Antarctic expedition took him to Bellingshausen, Hope Bay, Whaler’s Bay, Cuverville and Paradise Bay in Neko Harbor. Castro recalled sailing through a storm in Drake’s Passage as the scariest experience on the voyage.
“All of a sudden, the vessel starting going up and down and side to side with violence like I have never experienced,” Castro said. “It was very hard for me to move in a wheelchair, but I would be happy to take the journey again when I can walk.”
Although there were scary moments, Castro witnessed breathtaking wildlife throughout his expedition. Humpback whales swam around their vessel and Castro saw penguins and seals playing near the glaciers.
“Never before have I seen such a beautiful place, a real ice kingdom,” Castro said. “The icebergs had such unique features that it was up to one’s imagination what to make of it.”
Castro proved to be an inspiration to not only Mesa College, but to the members of the community with whom he shares his story.
When asked how this journey has enhanced his life he said optimistically, “I believe our experiences shape who we are, so this journey has fueled my desire to keep doing what I do – live to the fullest every minute of this lifetime.”