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Springfield man will carry Haitian flag at Olympics

Asnage Castelly, of Springfield, will be the first wrestler to compete for Haiti at an Olympics.
Asnage Castelly, of Springfield, will be the first wrestler to compete for Haiti at an Olympics.(Asnage Castelly)

A Springfield man is poised to mark two milestones for his native Haiti in the Summer Olympics this month, competing as the nation’s first-ever wrestling entrant and carrying the Haitian flag in the opening ceremonies.

Asnage Castelly came to the United States from Haiti at age 9 after his mother came here to study. Now 37 and an assistant wrestling coach at Springfield Technical Community College, he said he is honored to put his love for his country on display in Rio.

When Castelly learned that he had been selected to carry the flag, he was shocked. “I thought it was a joke at first,” he said.

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Castelly said he responded, “I would be honored.”

He said organizers told him he was selected because of his integrity, passion, and love for Haiti.

Castelly was drawn to his sport by a turbulent arrival in the United States. Facing a language barrier, he often got into fights. Wrestling was a natural fit.

With the help of a guidance counselor who also hailed from the Caribbean, Castelly became the first member of his family to attend college, graduating from American International College.

Castelly resides in Springfield, but his heart is in Haiti. Whenever he has the chance — usually every two or three months — he travels home to see his wife and 4-year-old son.

“I still live in Haiti,” he said.

Anibal Nieves, a two-time Olympian for Puerto Rico, first met Castelly when the latter was looking for a coaching job.

“He didn’t come off as cocky,” Nieves said. “He was a very educated, passionate kid who had some dreams. I describe him as ‘the little engine that could.’”

Castelly hopes that the Olympics will give him enough momentum to move back to Haiti full-time, where he hopes to see wrestling become a part of physical education and to start a school with his wife.

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“I grew up in a mud house. I didn’t have anything,” he said. “Education opens doors.”

If Castelly does return to Haiti, he’ll be reminded of the Games often. His son loves swimming — despite Castelly’s efforts to get him into wrestling — and he’s now caught up in the hype.

Mirroring his father’s dream, the young boy often tells Castelly he’s ready to compete himself: “I’m an Olympic champion!”


Globe correspondent Olivia Quintana contributed to this report. Reena Karasin can be reached at reena.karasin@globe.com.