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Diana Pearl
April 13, 2017 02:47 PM

Ivan Castro and Karl Hinett grew up thousands of miles away from one another — Hinett in England and Castro in North Carolina. But over the next two weeks, they’ll be traveling to one another’s home countries, united under the same cause: combating the mental health stigma.

On Monday, Castro and Hinett will be running the Boston Marathon for Heads Together, the initiative to end the stigma surrounding mental health backed by Prince William, Princess Kate and Prince Harry. Six days later, they’ll be in London, running their second marathon in less than a week, also in support of Heads Together.

Both men are experienced runners, but it was quite a journey to get to where they are now. Castro fought in Iraq, and in September 2006, while serving as a platoon leader in Yusufiyah, an Iraqi town, he was injured in combat. The wounds were severe: He broke his nose, cheekbone, had several open wounds and eventually lost his sight.

“We live with goals and dreams, and being blind is not one of them,” he says. “It’s a pretty significant trauma and has an impact on changing your way of life, your independence.”

But even in those early days after his accident, he was thinking about his next step. Hospitalized for weeks, he heard some of the nurses discussing the Marine Corps marathon in Washington, D.C. He couldn’t help but fixate on the idea of participating, and soon, running the marathon became his new goal and the prize he kept his eye on throughout his recovery.

“I was laying in bed and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” Castro says. “I knew I wanted to continue to serve, but I didn’t know how to do that being blind.”

RELATED VIDEO: Prince Harry Speaks With Blind Veteran and Marathoner

He trained for the race in the year following his accident, even while undergoing surgeries. He completed the Marine Corps marathon a year after he was injured in Iraq — and over the past nine years, he has completed 50 marathons. Now, he’s recently retired after serving in the military for 28 years.

For Hinett, his own injuries came in 2005 when he was just 19 years old. While serving in Basra, Iraq, he was injured in a gas bomb attack during a riot that left him with 37 percent burns on his body. He ran his first marathon two years after he was wounded, even as he was still undergoing skin grafts. Like Castro, having a goal in his mind was a big boost to his recovery.

“I used running as a form of therapy, and it helped immensely in regards to mental health,” Hinett says. “That’s where my love of the sport grew.”

The first marathon he ran after his accident was the 2007 London Marathon. It was a goal for him in his recovery process, just like it was for Castro. The Boston Marathon will be his 150th marathon. And doing it alongside a fellow veteran makes the experience all the sweeter.

“Hearing Ivan’s story just made the whole opportunity and the whole experience so much better,” Hinett said.

Harry with Castro at the Veterans' Mental Health Conference in London
Kirsty Wigglesworth/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Castro and Harry have quite a history together: Both traveled to the South Pole on the same trip in 2013, and reunited at last year’s Invictus Games in Orlando, which Castro participated in. On the 2013 trip, he says he was impressed with how down to earth Harry was — and he had no special treatment.

“He slept like everyone else, he ate like everyone else,” he says. “He carried his weight. People have this perception of Prince Harry that he’s been served life on a silver platter, but he’s very genuine, passionate and humble.”

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Hinett had also met Harry previously, while training for a potential Mount Everest trek (that was eventually postponed).

Harry personally asked Castro if he’d be interested in taking part in the Heads Together campaign, in particular, a venture that would have him running the Boston Marathon on a Monday, and then jetting across the pond to run the London Marathon the next Sunday. Hinett was asked to participate after a friend recommended him, citing his interest in running.

The two hope to highlight the importance of breaking down the stigma associated with talking about mental health, and show that there all sorts of ways people could be struggling — all worth supporting.

“Every individual is different, and the scope of what mental health issues could range is huge,” Hinett says.

Both Hinett and Castro praised the royal trio for their work with Heads Together. Hinett said one of the qualities he admires most about them is how real they are, and their willingness to talk to both of them about Heads Together, and their work with the organization.

“We all have our daily challenges in life, so what Prince Harry, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are trying to do to break that stigma that it’s taboo, is really amazing,” Castro says. “We need to care of our mind the same way we take care of our bodies.”

And the royal trio will be on the sidelines, cheering them on.

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