How would you feel or react if you suddenly found yourself on the brink of death? In today’s conversation, Adam speaks with former Marine, Mike Ergo, as he shares his journey through death and rebirth. When people were sitting at home watching on television the horror unfolding in the war in Fallujah, Mike was actually there – fighting for his life and the country. Today, Mike has found meaning and fulfillment in endurance sports and events, including the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in 2017. He is returning to Kona in October 2023 to compete and carry the flag for the Gold Star Initiative, in honor of the service and sacrifice of our fallen heroes.
Here are some power takeaways from today’s conversation:
- Taking something positive from his life-altering experience
- Surrendering to the higher power
- Understanding that acceptance is not an agreement
- Mood follows action
- The big spark that made him decide to change his life
- The parallels between serving in the war and doing Ironman
- About the Gold Star Initiative and how it has grown
- The Litany of Fear taken from Frank Herbert’s book, Dune
[09:20] Taking Something Positive From His Life-Altering Experience
Although Mike was fighting for his life, another part of him just surrendered to the moment and didn’t resist it. He wasn’t trying to die, but he accepted where he was. He wasn’t happy that the war caused his existential life-altering experience, but since he was there, he was glad to have something positive come out of it.
[16:58] Acceptance is Not Equal to Agreement
There are a lot of things that are out of our control. It’s important to come to a place of acceptance, but just because you accept something doesn’t mean you’re okay with it. You don’t like it but you accept that it’s there. When you accept, you have more power to change what you can in your life and influence the lives of other people, rather than wasting that energy trying to prevent things from happening.
[38:33] Love Transcends Death
If you dig into any challenge or problem or adversity, you will find different layers. There could be numbness on top and anger below that. There’s also that layer of pain, hurt, sadness, or all kinds of unpleasant feelings. But below all of that is where you can tap into that love again.
[41:32] The Gold Star Initiative
The Gold Star Initiative is part of the Ironman Foundation, where Ironman athletes play a part in the healing process of the families of our fallen heroes. The veteran carries the flag in honor of a fallen military member and the family also becomes a part of that experience to celebrate their loved one’s life. The veteran will carry a flag with a streamer that has the fallen member’s rank and name. The family hands the flag to the veteran for the run. Once at the finish line, the veteran hands the flag back to the family as a symbol of healing.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the flow over fear podcast where it is our mission to help you to rise above fear and realize your ultimate potential in leadership and Life. I’m your host, Adam Hill, and it is my goal to share with you the human side of high performance. My guests share their experience with fear, anxiety, struggle, challenged, and most importantly, despite all of it, how they rose above it, to achieve incredible results. So if you’re ready to rise up, let’s get started. Welcome to the flow over fear podcast and I am Adam Hill. And today I have an amazing guest I’m really, really excited about this one is a great great friend of mine, we’ve raced together a number of times at different Iron Man’s it is Mike ergo, and you may see him from time to time a different Iron Man’s because he sticks out a little bit he because he’s carrying a flag with him a giant American flag. And if you’ve ever run in a marathon, or any run a 10k 5k run a mile. Imagine doing that while holding what has to be a 20 pound flag the entire way. And we’re going to talk a little bit about that. But Mike joins us he is he was born and raised in Walnut Creek, California, attended Northgate High School, and he served in the Marine Corps infantry from 2001 to 2005. deployed to Iraq twice in that time, and after returning home, he was able to find meaning and fulfillment in endurance sports and events. He has been involved in endurance sports and has completed four full Ironman triathlons so far, including the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii and 2017, where you may have seen him on the television broadcast that airs on Saturday afternoons, and sometime in November or December. He will return to Kona in October of 2023 to compete there once again and again carry the flag for for the gold star initiative. You can Mike does carry the flag for it. In each Iron Man in honor of the gold star in honor of a Gold Star family and their fallen son or daughter. He lives in Petaluma with his wife and two children. Mike currently serves as the Director of the North Bay that center of VA mental health counseling center to for combat veterans and victims of military sexual trauma. I welcome to the show, Mike. That’s a lot of info that’s you’re doing good things that World Man. Good, good. Good to have you here.
I’m honored to be here, man. It’s really cool to be speaking with you. And yeah, it’s been fun getting to know you over the years. I remember the first time we actually met in purpose in person I should say, was at the bike racks. They’re in transition. Kona you’re like, Hey, Mike. It’s Adam Hill. What’s up? And we both had that pre race stoke going on?
Yeah, it was a stoke combined with nerves and and and 14 porta Potti visits. Yeah, it was. Yeah, there was. There was a lot of that. And yeah, I remember it probably different from you, because I remember just this, this. I remember this 16 foot tall man in front of me, you know about to race and that’s at least what I perceived just because I was I was starstruck by everybody. But you know, for a lot of it just be wrapped right next to you, which was, which was amazing. Because I knew what you were about to do. And, and yeah, that that was a that was a memorable time for me. And it’s one of the great things about Ironman triathlons and triathlons in general is because it brings to the surface, so many really, really cool individuals like yourself, and like, you know, people that are inspiring. It’s why I got into the sport in the first place. And I remember when we did that race together. I remember that, you know, of course, one of the most memorable things was, you know, finishing it myself, but I barely remember that. What I do remember was, you know, standing at the finish line and kind of watching everybody finish. And you know, seeing Mike or go run down the finisher shoot with his eyes laser focused on the finish line carrying the Marine Corps flag toward that finish line. And that was probably one of the most amazing experiences was to be able to witness that. And I wonder, Mike, what was going through your mind when you were finishing the race? Yeah,
that and for those not familiar with it, it is the coolest finish line in all of sports in all of the world, I think. I don’t think there’s anything that compares to it. Having Mike Riley call you in seeing the lights, the music, you know, the the ramp up to the finish line and the shoot people from all around the world. Literally, they’re cheering you on And what was going through my mind, there was a lot of things I was thinking just how much my body had physically gone through. And, you know, the, as you know, Adam, it’s a pretty tough race. So, during the run, I started getting some serious pain in the legs. And, you know, it was only my second Ironman, so I was, you know, in that level of shape, and it had been only, you know, two, three months before that I completed it. So my legs were hurting times, I had to walk a little bit. And I just remember that my mind went into a very, very dark place, you know, mentally and spiritually, I took a big dip. And all the things that I hadn’t quite processed mentally from an emotionally from going out rack surfaced, you know, just loops of, you know, killing, death destructions fear. And just just this, that sour taste in my mouth of what it’s like to be in those situations, knowing you might die. So I was cleaning to, I was trying to find anything grasping at straws, and when I came to was that I noticed my legs hurt a lot. And so I said, okay, that means I have legs. And that means I’m alive. Okay, I can work with that I’m alive. And I, I was like, rubbing two sticks together in the woods trying to make a fire. I’m like I can, I can spark some gratitude out of this. And, and it worked. It took a lot of effort, but it worked. And it eventually it was able to start running again. And that was around where the Energy Lab is for those of familiar arrays. And yeah,
the thing it doesn’t give you by the way.
It’s a lab where they take all your energy and measure how much they stole from you, and write and write running back on like, Okay, I’m getting closer, I’m getting closer, and hearing the music scene, the lights, and then the last part of the shoot was a combination of of relief, physically, relief, mentally and spiritually and emotionally because I was carrying 29 names on my jersey, and that’s the reason I started competing in triathlon is because I wanted to honor the guys we lost in our, in our rack. And the guys who had died since coming back from some from injuries and, and other things, and so I was so worried that I’d let him down. Or I was so worried that I wouldn’t finish or, you know, all the doubts came into my mind or that survivors deal to like, Why was I spared and these guys who I thought were pretty stellar Marines and had been killed. And so I said, You know what this is, it’s okay to be happy. It’s okay to celebrate this right now. And I, I mean, I did feel their presence there with me, and it’s what I needed to do something epic luck and Iron Man. I don’t know about you, but I can’t just go work out. I need to have some epic purpose to it. Yeah.
Yeah, no, it’s, it’s, it’s true. I mean, for a lot of us, that’s, that’s what I found is for a lot of for a long time, I could never just work out for the sake of working out because I would always just either burnout or get complacent, give up. But what, you know, what ultimately happens is if you find that achievement oriented goal, you’re getting held accountable, you’re being surrounded by other people doing the same thing. I mean, that’s why Ironman so impressive and, and it sounds like I mean, I’ve taken dark turns in Ironman, but, but for somebody who’s gone through the experiences you have and, and just to kind of shed some light for the listeners, you know, prior to getting into Iron Man, when you were serving in the military, I mean, you you saw war, you you you were in Fallujah, when, you know people like me, were sitting at home watching on television, watching this horror unfold. You were experiencing it.
It was it was an intense part of life and also the most memorable part of my life. You know, there’s a few key moments that I’ve had along the way that have compared intensity or, or where I’m able to be fully present. It’s interesting thing though, that I was I was reflecting on this the other day, and as bad as it was, and as much terror and fear and sadness as there was. I wouldn’t change it at all. You know, I didn’t I did a long walk in the dark. After that, you know figuratively, of You know, succumbing to addiction and self pity, hopelessness, and almost a form of nihilism. Just nothing matters. Everything is just crap. But that Yeah, sure. You know, for some context, that was the biggest battle that we’ve faced from in the country’s history since the Battle for Hawaii city in the Vietnam War, was a city of about 250,000 people, most of them evacuated. And there’s about 6000 fighters from either Iraq or around the Middle East. Who was that was kind of like a beacon to come, you know, wage war against Americans. And the big showdown, the showdown. You know, it’s it’s interesting, though, that I wasn’t able to recognize this until after I stopped drinking, because they had an experience that did not fit with my paradigm of how the world worked. And, you know, it’s okay, I can I can tell you about it. Absolutely. Yeah. And I’m still trying to put words to this ineffable, or, you know, indescribable experience, but I’m doing the best I can. And it took place when I was inside of the house. So what we’re doing, we’re going house to house, basically, there’ll be people inside of those houses waiting to shoot us, and we will hopefully be able to shoot them first. So it was the odds were the odds were not that great to keep doing that and stay alive. And
seems like they were in their favor. When you’re going in there. And they know you’re coming. Yeah,
yeah. You know, so we were in a house looking for some people who had shot at us and ran away and, and couldn’t find them anywhere. And then there was one small room next to some stairs and right by the back door, and my appointment, kicked it open, saw people in there, they started shooting, we started shooting and yelling and shooting and my machine gunner and back took around in his helmet, I figured us just done gone. And so I was feeling these rounds, tic past my neck and feeling the heat from him even. And I just kind of I just figured that was the end. So part of me was proud that I was going down fighting with my guys. And the other proud the part of me surrendered to the moment I didn’t resist it. I wasn’t trying to die, but I was like, this is where I am. I somehow miraculously came to a place of acceptance of whatever happens happens. And in that moment, I can only explain it as experience similar to what people who have done. Psychedelics and hallucinogens have done especially I guess, DMT. And I can feel every single cell in my body, I can feel like I can see out of every part of my body and I could feel my cells. Inhale and exhale, the hairs growing. And this is the weirdest part. And this is why I couldn’t talk to other Marines about this are accepted for a while, the differentiation between who I was as an individual and who others were a separate from me, started to dissolve. And I just felt myself kind of expanding outwards, and just a complete connection with with everything. And it was the most peaceful thing I felt. I knew that everything would be okay. Wow. And it seemed like an eternity because there was no time. And then was probably a second at most, I came back in and I was still in this battle of fighting and still shooting and, you know, I was able to get the upper hand somehow. And through a series of exchanges with these guys in this room, grenades, you know, small arms fire rifles, and that were able to survive and, and when. So how did I mean? Do Am I happy that there was a war for me to have this, you know, existential life altering experience. No, but since there was an I was there, I’m glad I could have something positive come out of it.
Yeah. So how did that that and then that’s an incredible story and perspective that I mean, not not a lot of people get that especially when it’s the people that are trying to kill you. You find that that connection. It sounds like with with with humanity. How did that shape the rest of your experience in in Iraq?
I think that I’m not sure how it changed anything there. There in my mind wasn’t able to incorporate that into my prayer. paradigm of how I saw the world. And so there was a good part of me that has rejected. And so then I had, you know, this kind of mentally pushing it off. And so some cognitive dissonance or just competing lines of reality. Yeah. And when I got home, same thing, it was like, Well, okay, but that doesn’t fit. So I can’t accept that. couldn’t accept it. Until, you know, until I was able to break free from cannabis, opioids, alcohol and, and just sit there and be like, okay, so that happened doesn’t fit from how I was raised in what I know. But it happened. However it happened. And so what what do I make of it? Right. I don’t fear death, say that much, which is nice. I mean, the process of dying, still kind of scary, which I think is there keeps you alive.
Right. Yeah. It is, is that it’s you don’t fear it? Is that because of the experience you had, right? Did you just not okay.
Yeah, it’s always because of both things. I mean, I’ve seen it. I’ve had the experience of Oh, my God, I’m about to die. And that horror and fear. And also, just the feeling of everything was, everything was okay. It felt like on that other side. And now it didn’t die. But just I knew that there was something larger at work. I couldn’t explain who or what it was. But it was I knew that I didn’t have to worry about that part. And so it’s it’s informed how I work with people. How I deal with my own fears, now, when they show up? Yeah,
well, that’s so. So that’s a, that’s a great insight. And I’d love it, if everybody could hear that message that I mean, because that is a message of, of from, you know, from different recovery programs and things like that, that there’s a higher power that’s looking out. For us, that’s, that’s not responsible for our recovery. But is that is, is there, you know, that if we give ourselves a suit, if we surrender to that healing can start to happen. And so it sounds like I guess at that point in time, when you experienced that, it was still, you’re still going through trauma, and then and then coming home, you had more trauma, so you weren’t ready to really embrace it, but later, you you sort of embrace that, and, and that there was something larger at work, which is, and, and that that’s that’s I, I know, a lot of times we want to reject God, but what is something that you could, if you could convey something to people that are in that, in that traumatic experience that maybe that they could grasp it? You know, is there anything that you’ve learned that you could, that that you would have done differently or done to maybe embrace it, or help others to embrace it?
You know, if I was to think of it, I think I needed the time, the pain and painful stumbling in the darkness, to be able to fully appreciate, you know, being I guess, in the light or laying my burdens down and letting go of control of what I can’t control. Like that serenity. Prayer says, because I was trying to control everything, and that’s exhausting. You know, it’s like sitting there, wishing it’s not going to rain, it’s raining, you know, and it just, yeah, unnecessary suffering, optional suffering. So if I were to say anything about that, it would be that there are things we can control. There are a lot a lot more things we can’t control. And so coming to a place of acceptance, not being excited about it, but an acceptance of okay, this is happening now. What do I do? What can I do? What’s in my power to do? Just eases uses your life considerably?
Yeah, so So except so just being more accepting. Gives you a little more ease of life.
Yeah, yeah. And I think the hang up there, you know, like, for, for guys who walked in our footsteps, Adam, is that we often think of acceptance as agreement. You know, like, Oh, if I accept this, that means I’m okay with it. I don’t have to be okay with it. Like I’m not okay with the fact that there’s violence, senseless violence in the world, or there’s suffering and disease. I don’t like that. I don’t like it, but I accept that it’s there. And so then I have more power to change what I can in my own life and influence the lives of other people, rather than wasting that energy on Like I said, trying to prevent it from raining when it’s gonna rain.
Yeah, that’s a really good point. Because I mean, surrender is often believed to be something like, you know, oh, you know, we’re giving up. And surrender does not equal giving up. It’s, it’s, it’s not. It’s just the acceptance idea, I love the way you put that that it’s not agreement, because you know, we don’t necessarily have to agree with the world but we do have to accept the way it is with the things that are outside of our control. Now, that gives us the freedom, really to look at the things that we can control and then focus intently on that to improve on that. Man that’s that’s just the that’s like the the very nature of that serenity prayer to which you grant me the serenity to accept the things I can cannot change the courage to change the things I can. And I love that word courage in there. Because I realize that we all have that. Yeah, yeah,
yeah. And it does take courage, you know, whether it’s courage on the battlefield or moral courage to do the right thing, you know, when, when our ego or our circle of friends might turn against us, or it’s just going to be painful to do the right thing, that courage. It is hard, because the thing about courage too, is, I think another. And I’ve spent a lot of time looking at these words to see what they mean. And courage is not the absence of fear. But it’s the ability to walk forward or move forward, despite fear, and yeah, that’s the one of the big approach. That’s the approach I take with life, is I’m not waiting to feel better to do something. But I’m, I’m doing something despite the fact that I may not feel great, you know, and so I think it’s probably not yours, but I know hearing, Rick Roll ritual, talk about his podcast of mood follows action. And so you can you can wait for the conditions to be right. And then like, well, I don’t quite feel like working out Yeah. Or you can start doing something that’s important to you within your value system. And hopefully, the mood follows doesn’t always, but then you’re not limited by how you feel was changes like the weather?
Yeah, yeah, I love ritual for that, that perspective, and that that’s a good one mood follows action. Hey, everyone, if you’re listening to this show, and you want to rise above fear and achieve greater flow in your life, which of course translates into better results in business, better health, a more fulfilling lifestyle, and much, much more. And who doesn’t? Right? Well, then schedule your free strategy, call with me today, simply go to www dot Adam Clifford hill.com/coaching. And click on the link to start your journey to your high flow life. So, within within your life, obviously, when you you experience that, that pain, that, that that trauma within the war, and you continue to experience that over the course of your deployments, and came home and then you know, then you’re I don’t want to say fast forward or anything like that, because there’s a lot in there. But now you’re now you’re finishing the Ironman World Championship after finishing your second Ironman. There’s a lot to unpack within there. What was that spark that ignited that journey? I mean, what, what, what changed in you to go so that, you know, you kind of became sick and tired of being sick and tired? You know that? What was it the change denier?
The big spark was realizing that I you know, I was I wasn’t living within my values, I felt I was living a lie. And I just, I’m tired of doing this, I was tired of doing it, because I didn’t want to live that way. And I’m like, Well, I’ve couple options, and kill myself and then just get it over with. I could continue to do this, which is just mentally killing me. It’s not sustainable. Or I could just, you know, like, sit down with my wife and say, hey, look, you know, I’ve been doing a lot of things that I’ve kept secret. And I’ve been drinking and using a lot more being deceitful and I don’t want to live like this and and I don’t want to you to have to go through this. And so she thought about it. And you know, like a day or so later was like hey, I want I love you and I want to stay with you. But I can’t if you’re going to be like this. You have to stop using drugs and drinking. And there was a significant amount of fear. So thought about oh man, cannabis like namely cannabis. I mean, alcohol was the most accessible and then I did the most but cannabis was the thing that I would have overindulging that would free me from anxiety. And the thought of leaving that was a man, what am I going to do just hang out and, you know, go to prayer circles and like, I don’t know what I’m going to do in my life like I really do. Yeah. But i The Love was greater than the fear. And I trusted and I took a step and called a friend who brought me to a 12 step group, and it was another Marine who had the gallows humor I needed, rather than the pity of like, Oh, buddy, no, you’re going to hard stuff. Yeah, he’s like, us. Come on, man. I mean, you probably gonna mess up and drink and mess it all up anyways, but I needed that marine humor. And then eventually, after facing the tsunami of my feelings, and realizing they weren’t going to kill me, it was realizing that working with a counselor at a Vet Center, the place I work now, to realize there is life after combat. Because I really, I came to a realization working with her that I didn’t expect to come home. And so when I came home, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I didn’t realize I had that expectation. But I made it back. And I’m like, Well, you know, I was just partying every day, like, I made it. And I didn’t have any path forward mentally. And so once I came to that realization, I was like, I started to feel a little bit better. Like, maybe there is something that’s some kind of joy I can experience. And, you know, I also happen to get a dog who was very affectionate to me, my little buddy, and I have my wife there, and my family support and my friends realize, like, Oh, it’s okay to pursue happiness. It’s okay to be alive. Like, I had to give myself permission to be alive. That’s just how that’s where I was.
So and that’s so you. So you thought you were you didn’t think you were coming home? It was that? Was that coming from a place of you? Because you mentioned at the beginning, you mentioned survivor’s guilt. Was that was it coming from that place? Or was it was it coming from a place of, of, of just, it was so scary? So, so certain that that death was all around you that that was what you were going to experience? Well,
both of those things, yes, both of those things, like one I feel like I didn’t deserve it, because people better than me, didn’t make it. So what right did I have? I mean, it first facing the parents of those guys was just horrible. Like, I just I, there’s nothing I could do, but apologize for my existence is how I felt I needed to do. So there was a survivor’s guilt. And then there was just I mean, it did, coming to the conclusion that I wasn’t making it home, freed me up to do my job better and probably helped me survive, ironically, because I was so worried about getting killed at first that it was hard to focus on the mission at hand. And once I let go of that idea of I have to survive. I’m like, Well, I’m probably gonna die because I just I know, I just it felt like almost like you’re at a casino casino use kept kept getting blackjack on like this. I mean, I keep living through these experiences, which so many close experiences, so many close calls of death? I’m like, How many times can you possibly do that before you buy it? So just like, Well, friends continue. It’s like, the forecast does not look that great for surviving. So coming back, yeah, I just mentally I had prepared that for it. You know, it’s it’s similar, in some ways to, you know, when you’re training up for a big event, like Iron Man, and then you don’t have anything afterwards, and you hit that depression of like, what now? Yeah. You know, like, my whole focus has been getting here and getting through and getting to the end, and I don’t know what to do now.
Yeah. Yeah. So So that’s survivors. And how did you finally you mentioned, you were, you know, working with counselors going through treatment. How, how did you start to rise above this survivor’s guilt? How did you start to come to terms that you’re here, and you have purpose, you have meaning to your life,
there was an experience I had a memorial day event where I was speaking, and a woman who I’ll be eternally grateful to Yolanda Vega, who had lost first son, Jonathan, who was serving in the Air Force lost him in the war. We were both speaking at that event. At the end, she came up to me and she said, I am glad that you came home alive. And I’m glad that you’re here. And even think about now I feel like I’m tearing up. And I feel that these bumps because this mother who had lost her son, her only son, excuse me, her oldest son was okay with me being alive and actually happy that I was alive. And that was completely different than my perception of how she would feel about me. I thought that, you know, she would be resentful. Yeah. But she basically gave me permission to be okay to be happy and to be alive. And it changed. It changed how I thought and I started contacting the parents of people, I, I lost and said him, I’m thinking about you, I still remember your son. And so that was, that was a big turning point.
Was that kind of what triggered the idea of of starting to carry the flag, carry the names of your fallen brothers on your on your triathlon jersey,
you know, it was a seed that was planted. But when that all came together, I remember I was sitting down, I was watching a YouTube clip that Iron Man had put out about I might have been the 2015 World Championships where a woman who had lost her husband overseas, from my area, had raised in honor of her husband, and she did Kona, and has had his name on our back and like it, just this epiphany. And it just was so big, I couldn’t miss it that, oh, that’s what I can do. I can, at first to honor you know, the people I served with, and we had lost, because I can bring purpose to this. Because at first I knew I needed to do it. I felt drawn to Ironman Triathlon, for reasons I couldn’t explain, I couldn’t understand. But now, it makes complete sense. And so the amazing part of that is that after finishing Kona, I realized that in talking to enough Gold Star parents that they were suffering, but they weren’t sure that they could connect with veterans, veterans were suffering in the same way, and they weren’t sure they can connect with anybody else. And a lot of times the Gold Star parents, you know, they lose their son or daughter, and there’d be a lot of community support up into the funeral. And then afterwards, people didn’t know what to do with that. They didn’t know they were, they leave them. And they, they would say I can’t, I can’t, I don’t know what to say. And so they would start shunning these families. And so they lose their community too. I was like, This can’t happen. So like, you got to do something. And I just remember, like the experience of people like you in the crowd cheering when I was carrying the flag, like it meant something bigger than just me running, it stirred some emotions and a great visual representation of carrying the honor and memory of someone. And so I said, you know, I worked with my, my good friend, Lisa Anderson, and we talked about, let’s do this for local people at these races, and share that joy with them. Yeah,
let’s say it’s incredible. And, and I’m glad you touched on that, because that is something that if if I’m if I’m being honest, is is difficult, you know, when you when you when you see somebody that’s gone through something that you just can’t understand, like, I cannot understand what you’ve been through, what, what veterans have been through, but I’m, I’m you know, I’m drawn to it for a that, you know, that the heroism of something that I would never be able to do, but and the and the self sacrifice. But I’m also you know, it also triggers that fear in me of what do I say, you know, how do I care? How do I, you know, how do I express this care in this appreciation? Without sounding like, I’m just giving lip service, Ryan, you know, and so, I wonder if you could speak on that a bit on you know, how, you know, how can we support how can we really support our veterans?
Yeah, and the
the vets, you know, there’s the there’s always the standard, thank you for your service, which some vets like it feels. It seems kind of like the standard thing to say though, like kind of like how are you fine. How are you? Fine. I’ve noticed especially for Vietnam, that too usually didn’t get a great welcome home that I’ve told them. Hey, welcome home. Um, or I’m glad you’re here, I think is the safest, easiest thing to say. I’m glad you’re here. And that avoids all political discussion. Right? Yeah. And it avoids everything, just like you’re a human talking to a human, and you’re glad that they’re there. And that I think that feeling of well being and goodwill translates to that exactly. You know, you don’t have to say anything profound, or say anything more than that, because it’s really I mean, we’re listening to each other’s words. But since communication is, is somewhere between 75 to 90%, nonverbal, we are looking at each other, or is our facial expressions or postures, and then I think we can really hear when someone speaks from the heart. So someone can hear your heart in that way, then the words are less important. And that that is the idea that’s communicated that okay, I’m, I’m literally Glad you’re here. I’m glad. Okay. How are you? It’s something like that.
four simple words, and powerful words, but back back, but backed by heartfelt meaning, I, I appreciate that. Because it’s, it’s, it’s something that, you know, that helps me to understand a little bit more and just be a little more empathetic, and, and, and compassionate in that way. And so getting kind of I know, we segwayed there, but I appreciate that segue because I just want to I want to help other people understand that too. And, you know, kind of getting into the carrying of the flag. I remember seeing you at Santa Rosa, which was for both of us are qualifying races for Kona. And, and you know, the difference obviously, was is, you know, you were carrying, you know, throughout the marathon, I mean, the flag has to be 20 pounds, right? And not to mention the wind resistance and yeah, the awkwardness of carrying, but just just just carrying that. And I actually remember seeing you fast forwarding, I think it was 2018 2019 where my wife was racing, and I was riding, man watching you run this is the first time I’ve seen you in the middle of a marathon. But you were you were you were singing or chanting something. And I wonder what what was what was it that you were saying during the race and what what are you telling yourself when you’re running during the marathon?
A lot of times, you know I can I can go through the swim and sometimes and then go through the bike with just I’m here I’m present. But I really need it to come out during that run that place of acceptance of like, I’m really here and sometimes little bubbles of grief pop out. Little nice little nuggets to just be there to be released. And sometimes it’s it’s little anxieties or fears or memories. I had thought about it a while. So an acceptance of I’m right here. I’m not at a finish line. I’m right here. In this moment. I’m taking this breath and taking this step. And a lot of times I just try to connect as much as possible to the guys I served with and realize that the the most important thing I’ve learned is that love transcends death. And because I realized that the the what people miss about the military the most, unless they’re a psychopath, it’s not the killing. Yeah, you know, there’s the excitement and adrenaline that comes with that, but it’s the love. It’s the bond you have with other men and women that you served with that, you know, have your back, you know, through thick and thin wood, you know, will literally sacrifice their life to save you if they can, and having that kind of bond. When when I lost somebody, I thought that was done. But I was able to figure out and learn through some spiritual and counseling work that if you dig in, down, there’s there’s layers, there’s the numbness at the top, there’s anger below that. There’s hurt sadness, and all kinds of unpleasant feelings below that. But below all of that is that’s where you can tap into that love again. And so I can tap into that and be like, Man, I have to serve with some awesome people. I had the advantage like instead of falling back into a trap of self pity, I can say I got to meet some heroic people. I got to meet some people that I admire that I loved and And not everybody gets to have this experience. I’m so lucky, I got to meet these people. And I can tap into that. And that’s usually where I am, you know, somewhere along the run.
Yeah. Well, that’s and that’s a, that’s a powerful point that you make there, love transcends death. Because as you were talking about fear, sadness, all of these other emotions, I mean, and getting kind of below that are getting digging down deeper into it, love exists there, love is part of all of those things. And, and we can pivot from one, you know, from one or the other, if we experienced that presence where you were, and when you were running by, I remember this profoundly both times I saw you run by in 2017, at Kona, and in 2019, you just felt you felt like a bigger presence, then then the human person of Mike or go running down that if you could feel, you know, your brother’s running with you. And that that was powerful. So whatever you’re doing, you know, it was clearly bringing with you. And, and that’s, that’s powerful. And so what you’re doing, with you know, bringing bringing awareness through the Goldstar initiative is powerful. It just it makes me proud to know you, Mike, and and I hope Yeah, can you? Can you share a little bit about that without what, what what you’re doing there? And what’s what’s coming up with the gold star initiative?
Yeah, so the Gold Star initiative, we find a veteran to carry the flag in honor of a fallen military member. And we get their family involved that Gold Star families, they’re called to come to what you and I would probably call the most positive experience in the world race day at a triathlon, especially in Ironman be part of that experience to celebrate that person’s life. And so the veteran will carry a flag with a streamer that has their rank and name on there, of the fallen. And the family will hand that flag to them for the run. And at the finish line, we hand that flag back and it says that that hand unit to the veteran from the family is symbolic of them handing their trust over to carry that memory and, and sharing that healing, and then giving it back to them at the ends. And like, yeah, along the way, I get to talk like I met all kinds of people that I still talk to today along the racecourse. And like so you’re carrying a flag, what’s what’s up with that there’s, there’s something I need to know about. And I’ll tell them, hey, this isn’t an honor of, you know, like, Mick kowski in 2019. You know, he was he served in the Marine Corps, you know, a second battalion first Marines. And, you know, he died overnight, right? serving his country, and his mother’s years ants here, given the flag to them, and just tell them a lot about these people, and keeping their name and their memory alive. And so this year, we’re doing more of that we have a few races that we’re settling on throughout the country in the United States. And then my partner, a co founder, and the Gold Star initiative, her son was killed in Iraq, the year I was there. And I’ll be carrying the flag in honor of him of Nick Anderson, and carrying that code and presented to her at the finish line. So it’d be the culmination of a few years work and excitement of building up this course or initiative. So this is this is gonna be a fun year, this going into 2023. And looking forward to this, and just seeing this grow and seeing where else we can bring the Gloucester initiative that will help, you know, veterans and Goldstar families come together and healing.
That’s fantastic at Yeah, it’s it’s it’s emotional to hear that just that just the power of, of the family handing the flag to us starting at the run. And then and the fact that it’s grown from from you carrying the flag. Yeah. To, to now multiple athletes carrying the flag can can other people. So how do people get involved in that in terms of how do they how do they get involved?
Yeah, If anyone puts a search of a simple search for goals or initiatives, they’ll land on the Ironman Foundation’s gold star initiative page and and any veteran can apply to be a flag carrier, and to be the veteran for the race and then any Gold Star family can apply to be one of the families we honor at that race. And so people who want to get involved can and you know, for people who want to get involved to maybe aren’t veterans are Goldstar families that want to support it. Besides donating, you know, getting involved the race day helping out there’s ways to contact the Ironman foundation and say, hey, I want to help. And we can find a role for you. Because the third part of that healing, just like triathlon as three disciplines, you know, we’re looking at the Gold Star family, the veteran and the community. And so bringing the veteran Gold Star family back into the community, and connecting with them is so key. So, yeah, we have, we have a role for anybody who wants to be involved.
That’s powerful. That’s, it’s amazing. Well, if you’ve, if you’ve heard that if you’re, whether you’re a veteran or civilian, or, or a Gold Star family, look up the Gold Star initiative through the Ironman Foundation, see how you can get involved and and support this incredible, incredible cause? Because it is, and at the very least get out to a race and witness this. It’s powerful to see. It’s incredible. And you will feel the energy. I mean, you will feel as the as you know, that the you’ll feel the power of that community. And and that’s hugely powerful. Mike, what, what I want to ask, you sent me a quote from the book Dune, and I have it here so I can read it if Yeah, I don’t want to put you on the spot. Would you like to share that? Because it’s a powerful quote on on fear from Frank Herbert’s book, dune.
Yeah. And so might be slightly paraphrasing this. But when I look at fear, you know, I quote The litany of fear from from Dune, that they recite that I must not fear fear is the mind killer. Fear is that little death that brings total Obliteration, I’ll face my fear, I will let it pass over and through me, and where the fear is gone, I will turn the inner eye and I will see nothing, only I will remain. And just the illusion of fear. It’s such an illusion. It’s there, we feel it. But it’s it’s an illusion. And the most powerful experiences I’ve had are walking right through fear. Not going around it, but going right through it and coming out the other side. And like, I did that, you know, it’s like I slayed that dragon. And it wasn’t even there.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s so powerful. I love it. And I’ve listened to the the audiobook. I know, I’ve read the book a while ago, but that one just flew right over my head. So I’m glad you brought that up. It’s that I’ll have to reread that and thank you for sharing that insight. What are you? So what are you doing now? To take care of yourself? As far as you know, keeping that fear at bay? You know, rising above it, finding your flow. What do you got? What do you do on a daily basis?
What would I do? Well, what I’m involved in right now, I’ll tell you both a daily basis and kind of in the bigger picture on a daily basis. I’m with you. I take that cold shower with ya. So I’m talking over with like Mark Twain said Eat That Frog first thing in the morning. Get it done, right. Well, I’m
not eating frogs. But
you know, he’s like you if you get up and do that, that mean you get that Ric Flair. Whoa, yeah, feeling and you’re, you’re you’re ready for the day. And so that’s part of it. I just spent some time breathing you know, just settling into what’s what’s below the surface is bothering me. You know, I spend some time with my dogs. I spend some time like looking at like, what do I want to do? Sometimes I’m you know, meditating, you know, sitting on the ground sometimes I’m, I’m so fortunate to have a hot tub and I said that I think like what, what, what do I need to do? What’s my next step. And for recently, for me, last year was picking up a weapon again, and going hunting. And for the longest time, anytime I’d come near a weapon, I would start shaking and going into a panic attack. And that was still something that was a limiting factor for me. Because while I don’t ever want to shoot a human again, you know, I didn’t want something I love doing shooting to be something that I couldn’t do or would bring me to my knees and so had some experiences with hanging out with vets when I served with who got me into running back out in the marsh, feeling safe feeling good. And I had to go right through that fear and and so that that is no longer a fear of mine and still a little bit there. There’s some residue, but I’m just doing things where I can connect to the Connect Nature connect to the environment with other people. Because I mean, what I found out about hunting is that, yes, sometimes it involves killing an animal, you know, for food and sustenance. And then a lot of times no matter what it involves, being out, being in the world, like really, all senses are involved in the natural world. And, you know, with duck hunting, I’m with other people and getting to know them. Yeah, it’s that connection there, too.
That’s fantastic. Well, I’m glad that you that you saw that fear that you rose above it. And now you’re, you’re, you’re doing it and getting out in nature. And I agree with you, it just brings you to the present. And everything that I’ve heard you say today has gotten back to that point of, of, you know, when you’re when you’re feeling a lot of that, getting into the present, you know, getting into that present, present moment, and, and accepting and, and I’m really, really glad you found that piece. Mike, I’m glad you found that place for yourself that happy place. And I’m glad you’re here. I really am. Thank you, brother. And then if people want to find you, and get in touch with you and follow you, what can they do?
You know, I got off Instagram a little while ago, because I was trying to live the Insta life and realized I was doing things so I can post them. But I’m on Facebook again. I might be you know, there’s one other MIFARE ago, and he’s down in Texas, I’m gonna have to have a word with him for
That’s right. You should. You’re the real maker.
So, so I’m, I’m on Facebook, and I’m happy to chat really with anyone who’s who’s looking to really find their purpose. And if I can help them, put them on their way. I’m happy to do that. So that’s the best way where you can hit me up at Mike at transitions for more. It’s a blog and a podcast. And so you can check that out. And there’s the there’s the main ways to get a hold me.
Excellent. Well, thank Thank you, Mike. This is this is awesome. I’m, I’m so grateful for your for you sharing your story and your wisdom and your courage with us. And I’m looking forward to as I know everybody else here will be checking him out in it next year when he races in Kona. For Nick Anderson for the gold star initiative. Look at the look up the Gold Star initiative through the Iron Man foundation and see how you could support it and let’s give our support to Mike. Thank you so much, Mike, and great to have you here.
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the flow over fear podcast. If you’re enjoying this show, please do me a favor and hit the subscribe button. I will be so grateful if you do and I look forward to bringing you more value in our next episode. I’ll see you then.