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.”
Ergo competed most recently in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii on October 14th. During the physically torturous event Ergo says that he wanted to quit multiple times, but he didn’t, telling Men’s Health…
“…as the pain came and the voices in my head told me ‘I don’t have to do this’ and ‘it hurts too much,’ I simply accepted the pain and focused on gratitude for being alive and surviving combat in Iraq,” he said. “I found gratitude for my family who had supported my this whole time through training and along the race course, and I found gratitude to the people of Hawaii for warmly welcoming and allowing us to race here in such a paradise.”
When it was all over, and Ergo heard the words “Mike Ergo, you are an Ironman!” broadcast over the loud speaker he celebrated with his wife and two children.
“I had done it. Not by myself, but with the undying support of my wife and family. With the blessings of the Hawaiian spirits to pass through their land. With the help of 29 fallen friends carrying me to the finish,” he said. “Kona was by far the difficult thing I have done since being in combat. That said, I would not trade the experience for the world.”
As Ergo states on his website that tries to inspire others with PTSD…
“My message to those hurting is simple: War does not define you. Trauma does not define you. You can use that hurt and heal, becoming stronger than you can imagine.”
Amen to that, Mike. Amen to that.