“Wait a second, this isn’t sweat,” he thought. Mike Mendoza felt the hot blood running down his body and slowly began to realize he was wounded.
Mike had taken a grenade blast to the chest. Shrapnel had ripped through his body and punctured his intestines in multiple areas. With temperatures perpetually over 110º, he could be forgiven for mistaking a near-fatal wound for perspiration.
After what seemed like forever, the medevac extracted Mike and his sniper team to safety.
Mike was rushed to the Fallujah CAS then to Baghdad ER, where he underwent emergency surgery. During his surgeries and his movement from hospital to hospital, the Semper Fi Fund had quietly stepped in and helped his family. They paid expenses, including the costly phone bills incurred when Mendoza’s wife was constantly talking to doctors in Germany to check the prognosis and status of her wounded husband.
Earning his stripes
For his actions during a prior deployment to Iraq with 1st Recon Battalion, Mendoza was awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation reads:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Sergeant Michael A. Mendoza, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Assistant Reconnaissance Team Leader, Company B, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 7 April 2004. Sergeant Mendoza’s platoon was patrolling in Al Anbar Province when ambushed by an enemy force in well-fortified positions. After a rocket-propelled grenade disabled his vehicle, Sergeant Mendoza organized and led five Marines in a charge across an open field, up a 10 foot berm, and across a deep and muddy canal to firing positions within hand grenade range of the enemy. The vigor of this first assault eliminated 10 insurgents and forced many others to retreat. Observing injured Marines still under fire in the enemy zone, Sergeant Mendoza continued the assault with complete disregard for his own personal safety. When his commander was wounded by an enemy combatant concealed in a nearby trench line, Sergeant Mendoza decisively engaged and neutralized the threat. Then he knelt in the open by his commander’s side while another Marine rendered aid and pulled the officer to a shallow ditch. Despite the rocket and machine gun fire directed at him, Sergeant Mendoza held his position and continued to provide covering fire until an armored vehicle arrived to evacuate the wounded officer. By his decisive actions, bold initiative, and complete dedication to duty, Sergeant Mendoza reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.
Chasing the Record
year Mike, the Patriot Racer, is on pace to break the world record for most Half-Iron distance triathlons. The record is 23, but Mendoza plans to complete 25 just for good measure. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough he will be doing 4 marathons too. With a goal like this, you might assume he has been in the sport for quite awhile. Incredibly, this is only his second full year of racing triathlons. Mike entered the Chicago triathlon on a whim with a borrowed bike and placed 12th overall. From there he took 2016 to racing IM 70.3 Steelhead, IM 70.3 Augusta relay (he swam), and a full Ironman in Louisville, Kentucky.
For the uninitiated, a Half-Iron distance triathlon is 70.3 miles. It consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run. Most triathletes train for sixteen weeks to complete one, while Mendoza averages one a week. He’s fast too. Mike finishes most races in under 5 hours, even when he is battling a sore calf or needs to change a flat tire (which has happened twice already).
A Reason to Race
Outside of the triathlon world, most people wonder, “Why do this? What’s the big deal?” As Mike explains, it’s more than just finishing races and getting the medal. “The Semper Fi Fund helped my family when they needed it and asked for nothing in return. This is my way of giving back.” To be clear, he is racing to raise awareness of the organization and the need for the Semper Fi Fund’s services. Wherever he goes, he talks about the group and asks people to donate to his fundraiser. He set a goal of raising $25,000 for the Semper Fi Fund. Mike’s driving force is to exemplify that vets can still accomplish great things, even with PTSD and/or physical injuries.
Mendoza is paying for the races, travel, and lodging completely out of pocket. He takes nothing from the donations he raises.
The media attention has been mostly lacking, but he has gotten some press lately in Maryland after completing the “Eagleman” Half Ironman. An American Legion post in Cambridge, Maryland heard what he was doing and decided they wanted to help the cause. They paid his entry fee and provided Mike with an RV so he could skip the cost of a hotel. He slept in the RV a stone’s throw away from the starting line.
When he’s not racing, Mike Mendoza lives at home with his wife and two children. He took the year off from other commitments to raise awareness and money for the Semper Fi Fund and race triathlons. After 2017, he will resume coaching youth sports. Being on the road and away from the family is tough, but Mike knows the mission is worth it. He wants to make sure that none of our wounded veterans are forgotten or slip through the cracks.
Join the Patriot Racer Team
Mike still needs your help to complete his journey to raise $25,000 for the Semper Fi Fund.
Here are 3 simple ways you can help:
- Making a tax-deductible donation
- Offering bed or couch to crash on when he is racing in your town (see his race schedule)
- Sharing this post with your friends and family on Facebook and email.
Let’s show people what a wounded veteran can accomplish if they have the passion and determination to succeed. Read more about Mike Mendoza on his blog: