Gerald Casterlow was 17 years old when a bullet struck his head, permanently dashing his hopes for a career in break dancing.
Doctors said he was "practically dead" when he arrived at the hospital 14 years ago, according to his mother, Laura Kalehuloa. But Casterlow defied all odds and nearly made a full recovery.
The once promising dancer hit the gym four times a week and, friends say, would occasionally break out some dance moves.
Last week friends and family found themselves bidding farewell to the south Sacramento resident.
Casterlow, 31, had been brain dead since he was found unconscious in a gutter Dec. 23. His mother believes he drowned in a puddle off Fruitridge Road after suffering a seizure.
"He was on his way back from feeding feral kittens," Kalehuloa said. "That was his passion."
Emergency personnel revived Casterlow, and he was placed on life support, his mother said. The family agreed to take him off life support Dec. 30, just shy of his 32nd birthday on Tuesday.
Members of the break-dance community gathered Wednesday at a West Sacramento studio to remember Casterlow.
"You can move forward," professional dancer Charles Montgomery told the group, referring to the obstacles Casterlow had overcome.
Montgomery, 32, of Fresno was a longtime friend and regarded Casterlow as a brother.
"When my brother died, I lost a piece of myself," he said in an interview Thursday, holding back tears.
Fundraisers for the family's funeral expenses have been held from Los Angeles to San Francisco, owing to Casterlow's fame and the tight-knit break-dancing community. The $7,000 raised so far falls short of the $9,000 needed for Tuesday's funeral.
As a 17-year-old, Casterlow competed in New York City and earned the honor of best individual break dancer in the nation. Two months before that, his Bay Area break-dancing team, Rock Force Crew, had won an international competition in Germany.
Tragedy struck on Dec. 22, 1998, when he was hit in a drive-by shooting near Rainbow Park in south Sacramento.
Casterlow had finished up a promising audition for a music video earlier that evening. Later, a friend was driving him to another friend's house to play the latest Zelda computer game.
Four young men were in the car when the driver stopped at his brother's house. Casterlow was sitting in the back seat of the parked car when another car passed slowly. The car approached a second time. A handgun was fired. A bullet struck Casterlow in the left temple.
No one else was injured. The shooter was never found.
Casterlow hung on not only to life but to his passion for break dancing.
"I want to break dance again; that's my only goal," he told The Bee in 2000. "It doesn't matter how good I get."
To many in the region, he was an inspiration.
"They told him he wouldn't be able to walk, but he did it all on his own," said Casterlow's brother Robert Cunanan. "He ended up beyond the doctor's belief."
For the last decade, Casterlow had lived much like anyone else.
"The only way you could tell (that he had been shot) was by his scar," said friend Kareem Gwinn, who looked to Casterlow for guidance.
This was after Casterlow had returned home in a wheelchair, relying on feeding tubes and suffering from chronic headaches all reminders of the 1998 shooting.
"Losing him is tough," Montgomery said. "But things he didn't get to do, I'm going to try and do it for him.
"I'm going to keep swinging at this thing we call life."
HOW TO HELP
The next fundraiser to help pay for Gerald Casterlow's funeral is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at Sol Collective, 2574 21st St., Sacramento. The public is welcome to attend Casterlow's funeral at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Bayside Church of south Sacramento, 6528 44th St.