The Star Press | by David Polaski | July 8, 2017 | Link to article
MUNCIE, Ind. — The 2017 Muncie Ironman 70.3 doesn’t scare Michael Mendoza. He’s seen far worse, and been in much deadlier situations.
The Illinois-native made his first trip to Muncie this weekend for the Ironman, the 11th he’s raced in since March. He’s from a small town just south of Chicago, which he said isn’t that much different than Muncie.
His original goal was to break the world record for Ironmans in a year, which stands at 23, but he has another goal that he knows is more important.
On Saturday, he finished 67th with a time of 04:40.12, which was 11th best in his division. Daniel Stubleski took first place (04:02.41).
Mendoza used to be a sniper in the US Marine Corps and was deployed in Iraq in 2004. He went back for a sniper mission in 2006 just outside of Fallujah.
They were engaged in combat when suddenly, a grenade appeared next to Mendoza and a few other Marines.
He took the brunt of the blast, which significantly injured the left side of his chest. It hit both of his lungs, collapsed his diaphragm and damaged his stomach and small intestines.
“There were a ton of internal injuries, but I’m here now,” he said. “If I was close to not making it, they never told me.”
Mendoza donned a purple swim cap and waded into the water as his age group readied for takeoff. Officials previously reminded competitors to let the better swimmers start in the front, and Mendoza lined up in the first row.
His wife Kelly along with their little boy and girl, watched him splash through the water as the air horn blew. She’s never done an Ironman, but still competes in triathlons.
When he told her that he wanted to do all these races, it didn’t shock her.
“I wasn’t really surprised, he always does things to challenge himself,” Kelly said. “When he told me that, I knew it would be tough, but I knew he could do it.”
The Muncie Ironman can take competitors several hours to finish, but not nearly as long as Mendoza’s recovery. He said it took him a long time, and still has small side effects from the injury.
There are slivers of shrapnel inside him that will be there forever, and he can feel it when he works out.
Less than a year ago, Mendzoa did a full Ironman in Louisville. He said he views a half Ironman, like Muncie’s, as just a long workout.
“I was looking up different Ironman 70.3’s and saw that the record was 23,” he said. “I thought, ‘I can do that.'”
Yes, he wants to hit the record, but he also wants to raise money and awareness for injured service members.
He’s with Team Semper Fi, which is an organization that helps injured and recovering service members.
It’s the same organization that helped him when he was in the hospital, although he didn’t know it was them at that time.
After suffering his injuries, Mendoza was treated at a hospital in Baghdad, then taken to another in Germany.
He was then flown overseas to the east coast of the United States, where Team Semper Fi helped Kelly fly out to see him. She’s a teacher, so some have given them a nickname.
“Some people call us the All-American family because of the military and because she’s a teacher,” Mendoza said, grinning. “And the best part of recovery is having your family there.”