GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A year ago this week, Gabriel Castillo, then four years old, was hit by a car while he was sledding at Richmond Park with his father. His recovery – both physical and psychological - since then has been nothing short of miraculous. His family nicknamed him "Batman," and he proved the day of the accident and ever since that he is as brave and tough as any superhero.
One year later, Gabriel and his mother, Sarah Alflen, returned to the same hill to face his fears, so he could put it all behind him. Alfen held her breath Wednesday when Gabriel took his first run down the hill by himself.
It’s safe to say Gabriel Castillo has no fear: he went down the hill head first.
“It’s a kind of redemption for both of us. I’m feeling good about him being fully normal, knowing he can go down a hill and not be scared,” said Alflen.
Garbiel's extensive injuries included damage to his kidney and spleen, a concussion, broken ribs, and a broken collarbone. Alflen said her son still has nightmares about the accident, and sometimes asks his father why he couldn’t catch him on that fateful sled ride. She said Gabriel has been nervous about returning to sledding, but he thought it was important he learn to enjoy the winter activity he loved so much before the accident.
Once Gabriel got to the top of the hill, it was obvious he couldn’t wait to get back on his sled. This time, Alflen waited at the bottom of the hill as a safety net, so he wouldn’t go into the road again.
After the first ride, you couldn’t stop Castillo from going again and again.
“In the long run, [the accident] made him stronger and given him a lot of good life lessons,” said Alflen.
Alflen said she was surprised that the parks department installed only a small fence, probably about five or six feet long. She said if Gabriel's accident were to happen again today, the new fence would not be able to catch him.
Though there's less snow on the ground compared to previous winters, Gabriel and his mom were surprised that there weren’t more people playing on the hill.