How Exercise Changed These 7 People’s Lives

Inspiring Stories for Fitness Motivation: Mike Ergo

Photo courtesy of Tony Svensson / Ironman World Championships

2. Mike Ergo: Something New to Fight for Every Day

“It’s about making peace with discomfort, and that translates into everyday life.”

A soldier in the Marine Corps Infantry, Mike Ergo served two tours in Iraq, much of which he spent fighting on the front lines. When he returned to the U.S. in 2005 having lost so many close friends, he had no idea where to go next. “I didn’t expect to come home alive,” he says, “so trying to plan a whole new life was difficult.”

Ergo ended up turning to drugs and alcohol to deal with his PTSD. “I think I was just living for that next good feeling, which for me, usually came in a bottle,” says Ergo, who married his wife, Sara, shortly after returning from Iraq. It wasn’t until July 2012 that Sara sat Ergo down and told him he wasn’t the man she married. She challenged him to make a change. “I had a moment of clarity…and just quit cold turkey,” Ergo says.

In search of something to turn his attention to, Ergo started doing CrossFit. Then, a friend asked him to join for a half-marathon, so he laced up and started running. He immediately fell for his experience on the road. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m putting my body through stress, and my body’s handling it. I have all these internal resources to deal with this — I don’t need external chemicals to regulate my mood,’” he says.

Not too long after, a friend invited Ergo to an Alcatraz swim in the San Francisco Bay. Within that same year, on vacation in Hawaii, Ergo watched the Ironman World Championships — where competitors complete a two-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a marathon-distance run. He signed up for a half Ironman as soon as he got home.

“I have a history in the Marine Corps of putting myself through discomfort, and finding satisfaction and purpose in that, as opposed to just looking for easy and comfortable,” he says. He figured a triathlon would be no different, and he completed that first race in 2015. He then did a few more half Ironmans in 2016, and by fall 2017 he committed to a full Ironman back in Hawaii.

Thanks to the tough training sessions and grueling Ironman courses, Ergo has also learned to be OK with things not being 100 percent all the time and has taken a softer approach to dealing with hardships. “At first, I think I approached it with a sense of ‘I’m going to beat this, I’m going to overcome it,’ — a really aggressive attitude. It’s more like what I’d say as a CrossFitter,” he says. “But it’s hard to crush something for 13 hours. [My new approach] was really just gratitude, and acceptance of where I am. To think about being on the finish line and being done after 12 or 13 hours, that’s mentally taxing. That means for 12 or 13 hours, you’re not where you want to be… So, I’m always coming back to, ‘This is okay. I can hurt. That’s fine,’’ Ergo says.

“It’s about making peace with discomfort, and that translates into everyday life — not needing things to be ideal all the time, because they aren’t,” he continues. “If you can have the discipline in whatever the workout routine is, and put yourself through some adversity and some discomfort, then when that comes up in other avenues in life, you’re ready for it.”

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