MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- It's early morning, the sun is bright and warm but the air is still cool. Sitting on the maroon colored track, he slides his bright-red running shoes over his foot, grabbing each lace and begins to tie a knot. After preparation, he begins his workout.
Capt. Daniel Castle, a 349th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, is one of five Airmen selected throughout the Air Force to participate in the World Class Athlete Program, which allows service members of all branches to train as their primary duty.
Castle will be spending the next year training for the 2016 Olympics 1500-meter race.
"One of my dreams that I have always had is to try and make it to an Olympic team," Castle said.
Castle graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2009 and will be heading back to train at the U.S. Olympic Complex. He will train with his former coach Juli Benson, an Academy cross country head coach and track and field assistant coach, who specializes in middle and distance runners.
During the yearlong training, Castle will be running nine to 10 times a week, an hour to an hour and a half at a time totaling 70 to 80 miles each week. Some days will consist of long runs ranging from 15-18 miles; relatively short distances, such as four to five miles at his aerobic threshold; sprinting different lengths from 200 to 400 meters; as well as weightlifting three to four times a week.
Running has been a part of Castles daily routine for several years now. Even with the hectic duty day as a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot, he makes sure he contributes to his goal each day. He often runs during lunch breaks or at 10 and 11 p.m., if the day doesn't flex to his schedule.
His highly competitive running career started in college. His senior year, he set the Academy record, placed 15th in the NCAA and 20th in the U.S.; however, running is more than just a friendly competition to Castle.
"Running is something I'm very passionate about, not only for the chance to compete," Castle said. "It's my conduit to decompress from all the stresses in life and I believe in being world class by pushing myself to do the best in everything that I do."
After graduating college, he didn't slow down. Within a year, he completed his master's degree and continued running 40 to 60 miles each week.
"Determination, the idea of chasing dreams and the Air Force core values have built Castle into the Airman he is today," said Staff Sgt. Shalamar Coleman, the 22nd Mission Support Group NCO in charge of group administration.
The Olympics are a year away, but in the meantime, Castle will represent the U.S. this October in South Korea at the World Military Games, a competition between the countries across the world in which service members form a team to compete against each other.
Aside from his goals as a runner, he plans to continue his Air Force career by becoming an instructor at the Academy, so he can inspire younger Airmen to chase their dreams.
"I would love to be able to teach and mentor the next generation of Air Force officers," Castle said. "(I want) to fuel the fire of living passionately."
His drive and desire to improve himself and others comes from his beliefs in the Air Force core values.
'"Excellence in all we do,' I really believe in that," Castle said. "I believe that it is the foundation to a life that is worth living, which has helped driven me to continue running; despite five deployments; many temporary duty assignments; being my best as an officer, leader and Airman. Making time to work out and run every day under the foundation of excellence is what has allowed me this chance, six years later."