Whether he is running across the highways and byways of the nation or planning an upcoming media campaign on the sanctity of human life, Pat Castle is on a mission to cross the finish line that ends abortion.
In 2008, the veteran marathoner co-founded National LIFE Runners Team (LifeRunners.org). Each year, the team organizes a national race and a number of local races raising prayers, awareness and funds for the pro-life cause.
Castle recently retired as an Air Force lieutenant colonel. On June 1, he took over the reins as president of the Vitae Foundation (VitaeFoundation.org).
He recently spoke with the Register about his commitment to the pro-life cause.
Are you a lifelong Catholic?
Yes, I grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D. My parents made great sacrifices to give my three brothers and me a Catholic education. I’ve spent a number of years as an RCIA sponsor.
How long have you been running?
I like to say that I first started running from my older brother when I was a kid. But it didn’t take long to realize that I was good at it. Since then, I have put my talent to good use. Running for me has become a great time to pray and certainly a healthy, holy outlet for me. At one point, I was the second-fastest man in the Air Force.
You were stationed in Turkey on Sept. 11, 2001. What was that like?
On that day, my life got really interesting. I was the chemical-bio-nuclear guy for all of Asia Minor. My staff was turning to me and asking me, “Are we ready for chemical, bio or nuclear warfare?” We were the closest American base to Osama bin Laden. It really taught me to rely on God. Catholic wisdom was key.
You had a very interesting encounter during the 2006 Pikes Peak Ascent. What happened?
The Ascent is an annual run that starts at the base of Pikes Peak and ends at the top. It is an 8,000-foot ascent to the peak, which is more than 14,000 feet (above sea level). So I had set a personal goal of doing it in less than three hours. This separates the amateur runners from the elite runners. When I got above the tree line, there was a dense fog. I couldn’t see 20 feet in front of my face. I remember looking at my watch, and my time was 2:50. I had 10 minutes to go.
I lifted up my first of three prayers: “Lord, this is all yours; I really do not need to break three hours.” And I heard, “Hey, we are 10 minutes from the top. We can do this.”
With five minutes left to reach my three-hour mark, I lifted up my second prayer, “You know, Lord, if this happens, I am going to proclaim your glory from the top of the mountains.” Again, I heard the voice — ‘Keep going; we can do this’ — and it’s fresh [in my mind], which was amazing to me, because I was hardly breathing. It was one minute to go, and I prayed, “Come, Holy Spirit, carry me forth.” When I came across the finish line, I collapsed, and people were telling me I was sprinting across a boulder field for 51 seconds. My time was 2:59:51.
I called my mom after I finished to let her know I was okay. She told me that she felt it was important to share with me something that happened at 9:50am, which was two hours and 50 minutes into my run. The race began at 7am. She told me that, at that time, she began to pray a novena to Padre Pio. Immediately, I drew the connection. The next day, I checked my results, and the next guy behind me was one minute and 40 seconds [behind]. Also, a photo of me collapsed at the top of the mountain as I crossed the finish line was in the newspaper the next day with a quote from me: “I told myself to let the Holy Spirit carry me forth,” Castle said. “After that, I don’t remember feeling the ground; I was walking on a cloud.”
How did LIFE Runners come about?
My running buddy at the time was Rich Reich. This was in 2007. Rich underwent a major metanoia experience. He was a Sunday Catholic (before). When we would train together, the topic of our discussions was our faith. Our time together on the road was almost a little RCIA class. We were both professors of chemistry at the Air Force Academy, and we would meet in the morning and break open the word [of God]; and he then got transferred off to Florida, and we kept up our faith-sharing via email. It was a faith exchange. And I thought, “Why don’t we invite our Catholic friends in our sharing?” It grew into a blog and then into a website. We then thought, “We need an action arm for this” in 2008.
So, go figure, we are two runners, and we say, “Let’s form a pro-life team and run for life.” So we came up with the first and only pro-life running team. It started in Chicago in 2008, at the marathon there. Today, we have 2,600 runners in all 50 states and in 17 countries.
How does it work?
We wear T-shirts that say, “Remember the Unborn.” If you then are willing to put on one of our jerseys that says, “Remember the Unborn” and walk through this culture or run a 5K, 10K, half marathon or full marathon, then you are willing to put your pro-life faith in action.
Each year, we have a relay across America that starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Palm Sunday. It ends up being 4,089 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge. We then have a fall event, which we call a national marathon, and it ends up being a pro-life retreat, where all the LIFE Runners come together and participate in a national marathon, with speakers and a race. [On Nov. 9, Vitae is hosting “America’s First Pro-Life Half Marathon/5K.” See VitaeFoundation.org/events for more information and to register.] We did a March for Life 5K in 2013. And we [were] asked to do a 5K for the … Walk for Life on the West Coast.
Do you have any good anecdotal stories?
During the 2012 St. Louis Marathon, a fellow runner saw my “Remember the Unborn: Jer. 1:5” jersey and approached me at about Mile 10. He said, “I lost two children to abortion and didn’t have any say.” I prayed with him during the next mile. We have post-abortion mothers and fathers on the LIFE Runners team who find our team to be a great vehicle for healing.
What excites you about taking over at the Vitae Foundation?
Vitae and LIFE Runners have a shared mission to change hearts and minds for saving lives: helping to make abortion unthinkable. Vitae strives to motivate abortion-minded mothers to go to a pregnancy-resource center, where they will find a real choice: to be a parent or bless someone else with being a parent for their child.
Adoption is a choice everyone can live with. Vitae will allow me to keep putting my pro-life faith in action while sharing the gifts that God has given me: Air Force leadership, a Ph.D. in nanoanalytical chemistry, education strategies, marathon coaching and ministry service.
What is the key to good pro-life leadership?
The key to good pro-life leadership is working together in a spirit of “God first; life always; teammates forever.” Without humility in leadership, we are no good to ourselves, others or God. With 51% of America now identifying themselves as pro-life, the tide has turned. To finish our mission of rebuilding a culture that respects life from conception to natural death, that considers abortion unthinkable, we must unite and push the truth of abortion through mass media.
Do you have any immediate goals in bringing together LIFE Runners and Vitae?
We are working on seeing the connection between Vitae and LIFE Runners. My vision is to have LIFE Runners be the funding arm for the Vitae Foundation. We have these missionaries in these national races. Imagine if LIFE Runners could have not four runs, but 40, and our money is going towards pregnancy centers. We are wearing our blue shirts — the same color of the mantle of our Mother Mary. That is the down-the-road vision for us.
Eddie O’Neill writes from