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Michael Ergo, below, submitted his entry as part of our cover contest.
Location: Walnut Creek, Calif.
In three words: Warrior, healing, inspired
I am a Marine Corps veteran who did a couple tours in Iraq. My infantry unit lost more than 20 men in Iraq and more since. Many of them died during the battle of Fallujah in 2004. Coming home I tried to drink and drug away the pain. I had the gun in my mouth more than once and went through some dark times with PTSD. No hope. No love. After reaching out and getting some therapy, I found some hope and dedicated my life to serving others who were hurting like I did and sometimes still do. I quit drugs and alcohol. I kept my marriage. I went to UC Berkeley and earned my masters in social work and now am a clinical social worker in the VA. After witnessing Kona in 2014, I was terrified that people would pay money to do that. A little voice in my head met that fear and told me this was my path. I decided triathlon was a way I could honor my fallen friends and try to inspire others with PTSD. I wear their names on my tri suit each race and dedicate it to their families.
It still hurts, but I’m done feeling sorry for myself and trying to drink away the pain. Now I use it to remember how many inspiring young men I had the honor to serve with. I have completed multiple sprints, olympics and a few 70.3s. I am training for my first full, Ironman Santa Rosa in 2017. In addition to honoring my friends, I have raised money for causes that resonate with me like the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides prosthetics and adaptable racing equipment for so many wounded veterans. I am also part of Team RWB, a group dedicated to providing social support for veterans and community supporters through physical activity.
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. I plan to embody this statement by completing Ironman Santa Rosa this year, as well as helping others get involved in the sport through my example, encouragement and my writing on my blog Transitionsfromwar.com. I love the triathlon community. I have come across so many people with inspiring stories to tell about overcoming trauma, disease and loss. While I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else in the sport, this story needs to be told. I am tired of hearing about veteran suicide and that over 20 vets take their lives each day. It’s time to change the narrative. In my work as a readjustment counselor at the Concord Vet Center (part of the VA system), I don’t just help people “manage symptoms” or “cope.” I tap into what their passions are and that scary feeling we all get when we see our dreams and immediately think “there is no way I could do that.” I also plug people into their community. As we all know, one of the best communities is the triathlon scene—people pushing themselves and others to be the best version of themselves. People with the guts to give it a go even when the doubt creeps in. Healing happens through action, not talk. Hopefully my story and my actions will inspire others to take that first step. Semper Fi.