This Former Marine Went From Battling Addiction To Kicking Ass In The Ironman World Championship
Former Marine Mike Ergo lost 29 of his brothers when he was just 21-years-old in the Second Battle of Fallujah, the Iraq War’s bloodiest battle, and when he returned home he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with all of the loss and guilt he felt.
Ergo says that he hoped that each time he passed out drunk, it would help him to forget all the terrible memories he was carrying.
For 10 years this went on as he tried to dull the pain.
“It was so intense — I felt pretty certain that I was going to get killed,” Ergo tells PEOPLE. “I surrendered to that happening, and focused on trying to protect my friends and fellow Marines. But after one month, 29 of them were gone. I really don’t know how I survived, and I felt tremendous guilt about that. How did I escape with just a small piece of shrapnel in my neck, while so many died?”
In the summer of 2012 his Ergo’s wife told him that if he didn’t get clean she was going to leave the marriage. It was then that he finally reached out for help with his addictions and counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Now Ergo has been drug and alcohol-free for five years and has been using the energy he once wasted on pain by competing in Ironman triathlons in honor of those lost soldiers’ memories.
“I feel like a new person with a sense of purpose,” Ergo, 34, of Walnut Creek, California, tells PEOPLE.
“When I’m running, I can feel the presence of the friends I lost, and not just in a metaphorical sense,” he says. “Several times, I’ve had the profound spiritual experience of feeling them running alongside me. I used to feel sadness, but now I’m overcome with gratitude and joy.”