Marine Mike Mendoza is targeting a 70.3 world record in support of other wounded warriors
Imagine a grenade exploding on your chest, spraying hot metal into your lungs and throughout your torso—and you barely feel it. Marine sniper Mike Mendoza experienced the raw power of pure adrenaline when his sniper team, operating out of Karma, Iraq, came under attack in 2006.
“I felt the violence of it—the concussion—but didn’t think I was that hurt,” recalls Mendoza, who had enlisted right out of high school, nearly a decade earlier. Two other men in his team had suffered serious flesh wounds, and he was focused only on tending to his comrades. But then someone pointed out the pool of blood forming on Mendoza’s left side. And then it became harder to breathe.
Mendoza was flown via Black Hawk helicopter to Baghdad, where “they pretty much opened me up from my chest to pelvic bone and patched me back together.” Post-op, he battled infection after infection. “I’m very lucky and happy to still have my arms, legs, and my eyesight,” says Mendoza, now 38.
More than a decade after his near-death experience, Mendoza’s gratitude—for both his health and the Semper Fi Fund, a non-profit that helped get his wife and newborn son to his bedside from their home outside Chicago—has only deepened. And when you’re a self-described “go-getter, Type-A personality,” it’s not enough to give back via countless volunteer hours (and he has). No, you go big with a world-record attempt, all to raise money and awareness for fellow wounded veterans.
Mendoza’s self-funded attempt is to break the Guinness World Record for the most long-distance triathlons completed in a single year (and the most Ironman 70.3 triathlons in a year). He already broke the non-branded race record last weekend at 70.3 Miami (now at 24), and this weekend at Ironman 70.3 Austin he’ll look to break the official 70.3 record (if he finishes, he’ll hold the record at 19). Rob Verhelst (Fireman Rob) previously held the world record for most half-distance triathlons non-branded at 23, while James Lawrence (the Iron Cowboy) is tied with Mendoza for official 70.3 finishes at 18.
By the end of 2017, his goal is to set a new standard of 26 half-Ironman finishes, and raise $25,000 for the Semper Fi Fund, where funds go directly to supporting injured and ill vets and their families. He’s already surpassed that fundraising mark, with the current tally sitting at $27,287.
Mendoza, a father of two who jumped into his first tri only two years ago, isn’t satisfied with simply finishing—he wants to compete in every race. Indeed, he is a force to be reckoned with on course. His 70.3 PR is 4:19 (Calgary 70.3), and he’s hoping to finish out the year with an average finish time that’s sub-five hours. Mendoza, who works with coach Allen Stanfield of Team MPI, also has a full Ironman finish (Louisville, 2016) under his belt.
While fundraising is an important part of his mission, Mendoza is most passionate about being a positive example for other vets facing the unique challenges of returning from war broken in body or spirit. “I’ve dealt with PTSD and faced depression and anxiety, but overcame it by being outdoors and becoming more physically competitive in triathlon,” he says.
As he approaches the impressive record, Mendoza is already dreaming up next year’s epic triathlon challenge. “I want to see how many 70.3s I can complete while pulling someone who doesn’t have the ability to swim, bike, and run,” he says. Mendoza also hopes to serve as a guide for a blind athlete—another example of his unflinching instinct to support and serve others.