CNN Fit Nation Lucky Seven Recap: Denise Castelli

"I think it was eye opening to me about how strong a person I really am.”

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Every year, CNN assembles a group of “iReporters” to train for a key triathlon and hopefully make healthy lifestyle changes along the way. This year’s group was known as the “Lucky Seven” and took on the 2012 Nautica Malibu Triathlon on Sept. 16. Each day of the next week we’ll introduce you to a member of the team and tell you a little bit about what he/she learned along the way. Today we profile Denise Castelli, an amputee who competed on the team.

“I think [triathlon has] taught me that I’m a lot stronger than I think I am. In certain situations, it’s really easy to be discouraged and think, ‘Oh that’s ridiculous. I can’t do that.’ I think after doing this triathlon, I kind of got my mind to, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to.’ I think it was eye opening to me about how strong a person I really am.”

Memorable Race Moment:

When I came in with heat 2, that’s when I knew I was going to finish no matter what. All I had left was a 4-mile run. I tried to keep my emotions back, and I was like, “You got this. You’re going to do this.” So that was kind of like a mini finish line I guess you could say.

I ended up talking to people the entire way and I was able to enjoy myself the entire time. I made a promise to myself before the race that I would soak it all in, that I wouldn’t get caught up in the competition. I just wanted to really think about everything I’ve been through and all the time I’ve put into my training. I just wanted to soak it all up while I was out there.

Training Improvements:

“I just remember so many days waking up and wanting to hit snooze and be like, ‘There’s always tomorrow.’ I had to force myself out of bed, like, ‘No you have to do this.’ The mental aspect is what really surprised me. I thought that ended up being a lot tougher than the physical. Once I was able to overcome me being my own worst enemy, the rest came easy.”

Because I literally could not swim at all in February when I started, and then I haven’t ridden a bike since I was probably 10 years old, the newness of it was what was exciting. It wasn’t like I could tell with my times, like, “Hey, look, my time’s getting faster.” It was more like, “OK, you couldn’t swim the length of the pool in February, and now today you can swim laps upon laps upon laps.”

The first time I clipped into a bike, I fell so many times. I couldn’t grasp the concept of my feet being bolted to the pedals. Once I got it, it became second nature.

Nutrition Improvements:

  • I began incorporating a lot more water into my diet. That was something I never really thought would have too much of an impact. At first, my body wasn’t used to it, and now I feel strange if I’m not drinking a lot of water.
  • I was never a big breakfast eater, and I started having oatmeal for breakfast every day. I tried to cut out sugary drinks. I never was a big fast food eater or anything, so it wasn’t like I had to tell myself, “No more McDonald’s.”

Lucky Seven Team Improvements:

  • I remember in February everyone sitting around kind of with this look on their faces. You could tell everyone was thinking, “Oh God, what have I gotten myself into? Can I really do this? Am I crazy for thinking I can?” To see the progress that everyone made- it was an amazing experience. Not only health-wise, with weight and stuff, but to see the confidence we all had on race day. There was no doubt in any of our minds. We had it. We were going to do it. We’re going to finish here and feel good about it. Everyone transformed.


  • Challenged Athletes Foundation

Next Year’s Challenge:

  • 2013 Ironman 70.3 Augusta

Advice for Triathlon Newbies:

  • Don’t get discouraged. You’re not going to snap your finger and feel good about it. It’s going to be a total rollercoaster ride, and some days you’re going to be so pumped and feel good, and other days you’re going to be like, “What am I thinking? Why am I doing this to myself?” Just know that it will eventually all come together. Have patience.

Want to be a member of the 2013 CNN Fit Nation team, or know someone who would be a good fit? Visit to learn how to be considered.

RELATED – CNN Fit Nation Lucky Seven Recap: Carlos Solis

Trending on Triathlete

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.