The morning of April 15, 2013, Ray Castle was told there was no planning for a large athletic event, but rather “a mass casualty event with an athletic component.” Hours later, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Castle talked to athletic training students Thursday about his mental health journey over the last 10 years coping with the bombing and other difficult times in his life, working his way back from 2023 to a few days after the event.
Castle said he remembers seeing a cloud of smoke and knowing something wasn’t right.
“I looked up and was like ‘This is not normal.’ And then a couple of moments later, people really started moving forward. So I started cutting the fencing and walked right into the dead center of a bomb that exploded,” Castle said.
He was 25 yards away from the first bomb and although he said he shouldn’t have run forward toward the explosion, he knew there was no alternative.
“There was a point where someone said ‘there may be a second bomb on the other side’ and I just remember going ‘Well, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.’ There was so much adrenaline going on, it was in overdrive for everybody. We were just moving as fast as we could, helping others,” Castle said.
Despite the bombing, Castle said there was no hesitation to return the following year.
“For me personally, going back helped me as much as anything,” Castle said.
While Castle fell sick a few weeks before returning to Boston a year after the bombing, his fears disappeared as soon as he stepped on the plane. Castle said it wasn’t until Recognition Day he realized he made it through the past year.
“I said to myself, ‘My gosh, I survived.’ I realized all I went through and that I got through it,” Castle said.
Castle is now the owner and Chief Medical Officer for Action Medicine Consultants. Castle got his undergraduate in athletic training at Louisiana State University (LSU). Castle’s interest in helping at the Boston Marathon started when a colleague invited him to bring students one year and he’s continued ever since.
“It’s just a fantastic event to work because it’s experiential learning for students and other providers go there as well and it’s interactive. I learn something new every time so I bring that back while working with other providers,” Castle said.
His perspective toward AT and emergency medicine changed in how he coordinates events.
“You have to have your emergency plan in place, do these meetings beforehand and whoever’s there, you got to have training. You have to know who to educate,” Castle said. “It gave me a better appreciation of the little things that I do and validated things that I already do in my normal practice.”
Social Worker Katie Francis attended the event over Zoom to talk about her work helping first responders and healthcare professionals with their mental health. She told students about a “healthy mind platter” and the importance of balancing sleep, exercising and downtime among others.
“We need to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. We can’t pour from an empty cup and we need to highlight the importance of it,” Francis said.
Francis said holding trauma can become heavy over time and finding ways to cope is important to prevent burnout.
“It’s like carrying a backpack while hiking. It’s not going to feel real heavy, but after a while, it gets exhausting,” Francis said.
Castle said he had to figure out “who was on his team” and compared his support system to a football playbook.
Header photo: Ray Castle talked to Athletic Training students Thursday about helping out at the Boston Marathon bombing back in 2013 and his mental health journey on recovering from the aftermath of the event. (Nathanael Tillahun/The Reporter)
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