Final Project: Boundaries

Breaking Boundaries as an Amputee Athlete: The Denise Castelli Story

By David Borghard

The road of an athlete is unequivocally paved with uncertainties and meandering plot-twists.

No one is more familiar with this than Denise Castelli, a 30 year-old Netcong, New Jersey native and ex-NCAA softball standout from the University of New Haven. Back in April of 2008, as a senior in college, Castelli broke her leg on a routine slide to second base during an NCAA softball game. Indicative of the type of fighter Castelli is, she crawled to second base with a broken leg to avoid getting tagged out. While Castelli knew that her collegiate career was over, no one could prepare her for the series of events that would follow her injury.

“I was concerned about not being able to walk at graduation,” said Castelli of the day she broke her leg. “I knew there was something wrong with my leg, I knew that it was broken, but I just wasn’t ready for what happened next.”

In order to repair her broken leg and ultimately aid the healing process, surgeons implanted a metal rod in Castelli’s leg. Unbeknownst to her, that small piece of metal would ultimately give Castelli an insidious infection. By July, her leg failed to heal properly, her toes turned black and she constantly ran a fever. When she suddenly fainted one day, Castelli knew something was awry.

“It snowballed out of control really quickly,” said Castelli. “I knew things weren’t getting better, but I didn’t think I would lose my leg.”

After receiving over 30 surgeries and spending 18 nonconsecutive months in the hospital as doctors attempted to stave off the deadly infection, Castelli received grim news — she would need an amputation. On that fateful day, November 4, 2009, Castelli had her right leg surgically amputated below the knee. That night, however, she wanted to put off facing reality for just one more day.

“The [New York] Yankees were playing in game seven of the World Series against the [Philadelphia] Phillies. That was the only thing on my mind. I just want to watch this game and feel normal,” Castelli said. “But the next day after, reality set in. It was pretty tough. I was scared to even pull the covers up and look. It couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”

Determined to let nothing, not even the loss of a limb, get in her way, Castelli sought to begin her new life as an athlete amputee. But before she could run, she needed to learn how to walk. Literally.

“I was excited, and pretty naïve at first,” Castelli said about getting her prosthetic limb. “I had to set mini goals for myself in physical therapy and then once I broke those I would set new goals. Toward the end, my goal was living as normal a life as possible.”

Castelli spent months in physical therapy adjusting to life with a prosthetic limb. She labored through the arduous process of learning how to walk, and aspired to once again run. In June of 2010, just months after her amputation, Castelli participated in a running and mobility clinic in New York City for athlete amputees. She was off and running on her first try.

“I had no courage to even try [to run],” said Castelli. “I think what scared me was that if I tried to run and I failed, it would be a pretty devastating blow to me. But at the clinic, I just took off and ran, and it felt so good. I didn’t even know I had it in me.”

The Challenged Athletes Foundation, which holds the clinic in New York City every year, teaches athlete amputees like Castelli proper running form and technique through a series of drills and exercise. Accompanied by medical professionals and world champion parathletes, Castelli was able to re-launch her athletic career.

By 2011, Castelli was already serving as a ball girl for the U.S. Open — beating out around 500 able-bodied men and women for the coveted position. She was the first amputee to ever work as a ball girl at the U.S. Open, and quickly became a favorite with the professional tennis players. Denise was asked to work Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest tennis-specific stadium in the world and home of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.

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(Courtesy via

“To be on the biggest stage of tennis and out on the court, the players are really putting their trust in you because you need to be invisible as a ball person,” she said.

The following year, in 2012, Denise was one of seven individuals to be selected to participate in CNN’s Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. Again, Castelli beat out hundreds of people for the opportunity to join Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s group.

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(Courtesy via

For seven months, Castelli trained for seven hours a week for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in Malibu, California. The process was yet another hurdle for Castelli to overcome.

“Not only was I learning how to swim, I was learning how to swim with one leg,” she exclaimed.

Castelli’s journey has come full circle since she first ran with her newly prosthetic leg at the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s clinic back in 2010. On June 6, 2015, Castelli was back at the CAF clinic in New York City. However, this time, she’s leading the clinics instead of participating in them.

“I’ve been to every New York City clinic, and the last 2 years I’ve been there as an ambassador teaching, helping and getting people comfortable in their prosthetic limbs,” she said. “It’s my way of giving back.”

Joining Castelli as an ambassador at the New York City clinic was Chris Provenzano, a New York native and fellow amputee athlete. Provenzano, 25, was a former collegiate baseball player before he sustained significant damage to the tendons, ligaments and muscles in his left foot due to an aggressive autoimmune disease. Since his amputation, though, Provenzano has resumed a fully active lifestyle that includes running, weightlifting, swimming and yoga.

At the clinic, Provenzano helped amputees of all ages improve their speed, balance and strength. Both Castelli and Provenzano have fully embraced their new lives, and are determined to help others in similar situations.

“I enjoy being able to tell my story and recognize some of the same doubts in recent amputees that I had during my first couple months on a prosthetic,” said Provenzano about the clinic. “I hope that the recent amputees I talk with are more optimistic and confident in what they can achieve when they go home from the clinic than when they arrived.”

Matt Graham, a three-time CAF clinic attendee and seasoned veteran of the program, was eager to learn from the likes of Castelli and Provenzano. While Graham competes in triathlons and is well adjusted to his prosthetic limb, he still attends the clinics to work on his technique.

“To be able to pick up tips from someone like Denise is what drew me to the event,” said Graham. “Learning to pace myself and when and how to utilize certain skills was my major goal.”

At only 30 years old, Denise Castelli still has a long future ahead of her. For now, though, she’s still taking it one day at a time.

“It’s hard for me to look too far into the future because my life changed so quickly,” she said. “I can’t set long-term goals for myself, but I just hope to keep doing what I’m doing — wake up everyday and feel comfortable in my own skin.”



Final Project Draft

This is what I have so far. I’ve written some of it and the paragraphs at the bottom are just things I jotted down that I may or may not sure. I’ve also been transcribing interviews I did and going through pictures I’ve taken. The quotes and pictures I got from when I went home to NY/NJ last week and went to the Jets game and also around NYC.


The Boundaries of Fandom: New York Jets vs. New Jersey Giants


Sorry Jets fans, but most of New York is Giants territory–and they’re coming for New Jersey too.

The New York Giants and the New York Jets, two of the three New York football teams (the Buffalo Bills play far upstate), play in the same stadium…in New Jersey of all places. This has caused some confusion as to who to root for among residents of the two neighboring states. While New Yorkers tend to support the Giants and New Jerseyans usually cheer for the Jets, the boundaries aren’t exactly so clear-cut. Not anymore at least.

“Growing up, no one in New Jersey rooted for the Giants,” said 50-year-old Michael Berman, a longtime Jets fan who was at the game early with his family last Sunday. “New Yorkers had their Giants and we [New Jerseyans] had our Jets. It didn’t matter that the Jets played in New York back then. There was no way in hell anybody from Jersey would root for the team that everybody in New York liked…at that was the Giants.”


A longstanding rivalry between the two states has played a part in shaping people’s fandom. New Yorkers tend to feel that they’re better than people from New Jersey, and New Jerseyans take that quite personally. Thus, residents of the two neighboring states have historically rooted for opposing sports teams.

“It used to be that most people from Jersey liked the Jets, Mets, Nets, and Devils, while pretty much all of New York liked the Giants, Yankees, Knicks, and Rangers,” Michael said. “Besides Queens of course. They had the Jets and Mets, so they were the only team in the city that rooted for the two of same teams as us.”

But things have been changing the past decade or so. With rent prices soaring to sky-high rates in New York City, many people have been packing up and moving out of New York and into New Jersey suburbs that are within 25 miles of Manhattan. For sports fans, that means Giants fans have been slowly infiltrating Jets territory.

“You can see it,” Michael exclaimed while . “I live about a dozen miles out of New York City, and all of the young couples buying houses here are all from Manhattan and Brooklyn. They’re undoubtedly Giants fans. I see some of them out and about on gameday wearing their red, white, and blue Giants jerseys. I can do the math.”

Another Jets fan tailgating outside of MetLife Stadium vehemently backed up Michael’s claim.

“It’s a takeover,” said 48-year-old Mike Mazzianno. “Plain and simple. New Jersey used to bleed green, but all of these people moving from New York to Jersey and all of these younger kids are Giants fans.”

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“Things will change though,” Mike said hopefully. “Most of these Giants fans respond to winning and will root for whoever’s on top. So once the Jets get winning again we’ll get come fans back.”

The 2000s haven’t been too kind on the Jets. The team has just a .490 winning percentage since the 2000-01 season and have zero championships to show for it, while the Giants have a .533 winning percentage and 2 Super Bowl Championships in the same period of time. That’s why many young fans from New Jersey are Giants fans, not Jets.

I surveyed 100 football fans from New Jersey that I knew from high school and asked them which NFL team they root for. 32 said they’re Jets fans, 61 said they’re Giants fans, 5 said they’re Philadelphia Eagles fans, and 2 said they’re Dallas Cowboys fans.

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It’s a small sample size, but if it’s any indication of which team New Jersey football fans ages 20-22 root for, the answer is overwhelmingly Giants.






The two rival football teams have shared the same stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey for nearly thirty years now, but they haven’t always called New Jersey home.

The Giants only moved to New Jersey in 1976, after years of playing at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Because the Giants shared a stadium with the oh-so-popular New York Yankees, the most storied baseball franchise, they quickly became New York City’s foremost football team. There was, however, one holdout: Queens.

The Jets were established in 1959 in Queens, and residents of New York City’s largest borough proudly supported their local team. In Queens, the Jets shared a stadium with the Yankees’ rival, the New York Mets. While the rest of New York City overwhelmingly rooted for the Giants, and the Yankees for that matter, Queens was the lone holdout in New York cheering for the Jets.

To add fuel to the bitter rivalry between the two states, many New Jerseyans became Jets fans to spite New Yorkers, even before the team moved across the Hudson River into New Jersey.

New Jersey has since has hosted both the Giants and the Jets for several decades now, but fans are often split on alliances. New Jerseyans have historically been Jets fans, while New Yorkers are mostly Giants fans.


Final Project Pitches: Boundaries

One-line story idea

Story 1. Artificial boundaries are created by the NFL’s national broadcast partners Fox and CBS, based on both regional and national interests. So unless you pay for a premium NFL television package, where you live greatly affects what teams you get to watch on television and sometimes your fandom.

Story 2. New York Jets or New York Giants? These two teams share the same stadium in New Jersey, yet they’re both New York teams. Also, New Yorkers tend to cheer for the Giants, while New Jerseyans root for the Jets. Why is this, and what’s behind these boundaries?

Which media?

Story 1. Text, photos (photos from

Story 2. Text, photos

Type of story and style (hard news, current affairs, feature, sports/ New Yorker piece or NPR audio postcard)

Story 1. Sports piece

Story 2. Sports piece


Story 1. Football fans who have been effected by the NFL’s broadcasting deals. The person behind the maps and charts from (J.P. Kirby)

Story 2. Jets fans who live in New York and Giants fans who live in New Jersey. I could also interview traditional Jets fans from New Jersey and traditional Giants fans from New York.

What are the main three questions will you ask?

Story 1. What are your experiences while trying to watch (enter team name here) on television? Has viewing availability changed your fandom? Why do you (or don’t you) pay for a premium service so you can watch your team regardless of where you are? If answer is yes, then how much do you pay and what’s the most you would pay. If answer is no, then why not?

Story 2. Why do you root for the Giants but live in New York (and vice versa)? Does where you live effect who you root for? Why don’t the Giants play in New York and the Jets just stay in Jersey? Why are they the New York Jets if they’re New Jersey’s team?