Other Sports

At 40, Nicholasville-based runner is hitting his stride

Kevin Castille, a Louisiana native, now lives and trains in Lexington. He ran the 1,500 in the Eastern Kentucky University Open on April 20.
Kevin Castille, a Louisiana native, now lives and trains in Lexington. He ran the 1,500 in the Eastern Kentucky University Open on April 20. ©2012 Herald-Leader

NICHOLASVILLE — To see where Kevin Castille might go, it helps to know where he's been.

One month ago, at the Stanford Invitational, Castille shattered the American masters (age 40 and older) record for 10,000 meters.

His time of 28 minutes, 57.88 seconds came three weeks after his 40th birthday. The previous record, set by Paul Aufdemberg in 2009, was 30:04 — more than a minute slower.

Last week, again at Stanford, Castille added the American masters record for 5,000 meters, 14:00.9.

Running is his escape.

An escape from sexual abuse, drugs and dysfunction.

"Not a lot of people know my story because I don't tell it," he says. "Because some people think it's a sad story. It's not a sad story. You play the cards that you're dealt, and that's it. That's all you can do. You either play 'em or you just lay 'em there, and lay down and die. And that's what I did for a while.

"I didn't play the hand that I was dealt. I just set it there and I walked away from it. But it's your hand. Eventually, you're going to have to pick it up and you're going to have to play it. And that's what I did."

Rough beginnings

Born and raised in Lafayette, La., Castille says his mother was an alcoholic. She lived in New Orleans, and he didn't meet her until he was almost 20.

He lived with his grandmother, Anna Mae Castille. He vividly recalls when she died in 1983.

"My life went from sugar to s---. ... As an 11-year-old, when you feel that the only person that cared about you is gone, it's just different."

Custody fell to Kevin's father, who had remarried and had several more children. Several aunts helped run the household.

But Kevin became prey. He says he was sexually abused by some neighborhood men.

He recalls feeling as if he were invisible to society, because nobody cared.

That changed when he entered Acadiana High School.

"I was under 5 feet tall, probably 70-something pounds. And with a boy that size, what are you going to do? Nothing," Castille says.

James Simmons had other plans.

Taking over as coach of a downtrodden track program with perhaps five athletes, Simmons needed bodies.

"I don't know how he got me out, but he got me out," Castille says. "So, of course, my first year I was in high school I slept through mostly all my classes. I didn't have to go home to answer to anybody, because they didn't give a s---."

Simmons, though, learned Castille's name. That captivated the freshman.

Now the director of athletics, student activities, health and physical education for Lafayette Parish Schools, Simmons recalls that he let his students pick their events. Castille broke in as a pole vaulter, with minimal success.

Each fall, if not playing football or basketball, Simmons' athletes were required to run in cross country if their event was 800 meters or longer. Jumpers and vaulters had to run in two cross country meets.

His first time out, Castille ran 5,000 meters in 17:19. The second time, he ran 16:45.

"So I called him over, ... and I say, 'Look, I'm not trying to tell you what to do; if you want to keep vaulting, you can,'" Simmons says. "'But if you want to go somewhere, your future's in distance running.'"

Castille took the advice.

When track season came around, Acadiana was in a three-way battle for the district team championship.

"So we go down to the 3,200-meter run, and it's a battle," Simmons says.

Castille was his school's No. 2 runner at 3,200, but the better athlete didn't recover that day after having already run the 800 and 1,600.

"Coming off the last lap, Kevin was like fourth place, and we just thought we were done," Simmons says. "And about 15 meters from the finish line, Kevin just kept coming. He never gave up. ... He just kept coming and, right at the end, he caught two kids. And we won the district championship by two points."

It was Acadiana's first title.

Castille blossomed as a junior, earning all-state honors and running the 3,200 in about 9:40. As a senior, he dropped his time to about 9:20, and 4:21 for 1,600.

Hometown school Southwestern Louisiana — now known as Louisiana-Lafayette — offered a scholarship. Castille signed the papers in Simmons' home.

College dropout

Although still in Lafayette, Castille was a long way from the old neighborhood.

He was the first member of his family to attend college.

However, the NCAA's old Proposition 48 regulations kept him out of competition as a freshman.

When he finally did get to run, as a sophomore, things didn't go well.

"My parents weren't involved with me. It's just different. You have to have that support system, and I never had it," Castille says. "High school, it was a little bit easier because I had people taking care of me.

"But, of course, you move on to the next stage, which is college-adult, you have to take care of yourself, and I don't think I was able to do that. So the transition was much harder. I went two years to college, and that was it. Dropped out of college. Didn't run for nine years, almost 10 years."

Out of college, off the track, Castille had no place. He flopped down in a crack house, selling drugs (not using, he says) to survive.

"I was back to the same streets that I had successfully made it out of. ... And where I'm from, people end up dead or in jail," Castille says. "In that situation, you have to figure out who you are and what you want to do. Be like everybody else in your circle, ... or are you going to be something different?"

Rebirth of a runner

"Could have been a tragedy," says Simmons, who kept encouraging Castille to be something different.

Castille did, returning to his hometown college. In 2006, he earned a degree in general studies, with an emphasis in behavior science.

Before graduating, he became a full-time personal trainer and part-time coach in Lafayette.

The latter led to the rebirth of his running career. He was coaching a small group of middle-school runners sometime about 2000.

"They taught me why I ran when I ran: because it was supposed to be fun, and when I got to college, you lose that fun element. If you don't have fun doing something, you don't love it. That brought me back to running — five kids. ... I learned so much about me from them."

Castille never lost his running physique. Now at 5-foot-9, 127 pounds, he likens his body to an old car with low mileage. He missed nearly a decade of pounding on his legs.

Early in 2004, Castille moved to Oregon to train under Team Eugene's Matt Lonergan, who remains his coach. The move paid off. Castille qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials by running 28:49.11 for 10,000 on the Stanford track.

By the time the trials came, he was injured. He started but did not finish.

He also qualified for the 2008 trials, but inconsistent results toyed with his mind.

"I was on this roller coaster. I'd have one good race, seven bad races," he says. "I was just struggling with the mental aspect of being at that high level, so I just hadn't put it together yet."

Road to Kentucky

Castille moved to Nicholasville last May to be with his fiancée.

Although no longer engaged, Castille says he loves the Bluegrass.

He trains by himself, most often on trails. He goes to Raven Run two or three times a week "because it has the hills and it's challenging. It's peaceful out there. It's almost like going to church."

He also is a volunteer coach at East Jessamine, where his daughter Kelnisha goes to middle school but competes for the high school.

Castille says he has two other daughters (Kiara, 7, in Oregon, and Tavia, a high school junior, in Dallas).

"I love to motivate kids," he says. "My goal was always if I could help some kid not go through what I went through to get where they're going, it makes it so much easier because (otherwise) you're wasting so much time. For me, it took forever to get there. It took an eternity."

Castille likes to do yard work and will occasionally pick up a few dollars that way.

He is sponsored by John's Run/Walk Shop. And now that he has cracked the "elite" masters barrier, meet sponsors usually cover travel expenses and provide performance payouts.

Lonergan has Castille running 13 times a week, totaling 85 to 100 miles.

Last month's 10K record earned him USA Track & Field athlete of the week honors, but he tempered his enthusiasm.

"I think expectations for myself are higher than what other people expect me to do," he says.

He moved on, running a 1,500-meter race at Eastern Kentucky University as part of a "speed" workout.

Then came last week's record for 5,000 meters on a track, breaking the listed American record of 14:17.36, set by Brian Pope in 2004. It also bettered the unofficial (not ratified) mark of 14:02.86 set by two-time Olympic 10K runner Steve Plasencia.

In the coming weeks, Castille is scheduled for a 12,000-meter race at Spokane, Wash., a 10K at New York and an 8K at Williamsburg, Va.

He already is a "B" (provisional) qualifier for 10,000 meters at the Olympic Trials. Could a trip to the London Olympics happen?

"I know the clock is ticking for me. I'm probably 15 to 20 years (older than) a lot of guys that will be there, maybe 10 to 12 on some," he says. "I know that I can only go so far, but I never count myself out."