But that’s not the best part. He also raised over $42,000. Every penny went to veterans in need. This year, Mike is positioned to break his records—for both 70.3 Ironman Triathlons and money raised for the Semper Fi Fund, an organization that he benefited from greatly after being wounded in Iraq in 2009. So we sat down with Mike to ask him a little bit more about both.

Hoist: Let’s start with the racing. How did you get started?

Mike: My first triathlon was in Chicago three years ago. My buddy convinced me to train with him and compete. I ended up winning my age group and getting 7th overall.

Uh, wow… how did you pull that off?

When I tell my brain to go, it just goes. I gave it all that I had.

So you decided to keep going?

Yeah, I did another half… then a full. When I finished my first 70.3 Ironman in 5 hours, I realized I was ok at this. So one night, sitting on the couch with my wife, I said, “I wonder what the record is.” She said, “Why? You want to break it?” We both laughed, but the truth is, I did. Not just for the sake of breaking it though, but to give back. I figured I could for pursue it for a purpose. And if I couldn’t break it, I could accomplish something else in the meantime.

Why the Semper Fi Fund?

So many service members have personalized needs—physically, financially, mentally, emotionally. Like Saul, who wanted to run, but only had “walking” prosthetics. New running legs would have cost him $20K, because they aren’t a necessity in the eyes of any insurance company. Semper Fi could help. I knew it, because they helped me.

I served in the United States Marine Corps from 1997-2007 and had multiple deployments overseas where I was severely wounded. When I was in Iraq in 2006—in Fallujah—a grenade blast injured much of my body: both lungs, my diaphragm, stomach, intestines, spleen. I had to get emergency surgery in Baghdad, then Germany, then Camp Lejeune. Infections threatened my whole body, so my wife and then-newborn son flew to meet me in each hospital. When the Semper Fi Fund found out we were paying for our own flights and racking up our cell phone bill with international calls to doctors—back then those calls were costing us about $2K—they gave us a check. They even put my wife, son and mom in Fisher houses as I went through surgery. They know that it’s a long road to recovery and want veterans to be financially stable.

They help in all kinds of ways, actually. My good buddy, Eddie, and I were in the same ambush in 2004. When an RPG hit him, it took both of his arms along with other injuries. He is lucky to be alive, and really benefited from the Semper Fi Fund because he needed custom prosthetics. Another one of my buddies is blind. Saul, who I mentioned, lost both legs. Many vets need wheelchair-accessible vans or homes.  

These stories, they go on and on. If I can push myself for a few hours for a race and donate money, it won’t justify what happened, but it’ll help. The Semper Fi Fund does a lot of good. A little pain is worth that to me.

Basically, I wanted to return the favor, and so did my wife. We decided, if I’m good at racing, I’m going to race to my full potential and chase records.

What was last year like—breaking the record for the first time?

I trained hard and pushed myself every single time. The best was, friends and family supported me in huge ways, including social media, and my following grew.

I think it helped that my bike is really distinct: it’s red, white and blue. So I was easy to spot and people started asking, “What race # is this?” I met new friends all over the country, especially as I hit the halfway point. Once, my bike was delayed at a race and Quintana Roo let me borrow a bike. Other bike shops who wouldn’t take me seriously at first started offering to help me with tuneups or even ask me to post their name on my website. People’s doors started opening—I had places to stay all over the country: Florida, Utah, Texas, San Diego, Maryland. It was a complete outpouring of support.

So how do you keep yourself strong, ready for all these races and, of course, hydrated?

I’m OCD when it comes to rituals. I hydrate; I monitor my intake of sodium, carbs, sugars. And I start days prior to the race. Say a race is Sunday. I’ll start preparing my body to handle it on a Wednesday. It’s like studying for school. You can do cram sessions the day before a big test, but you won’t retain the information. Our bodies are like that with hydration and nutrients. We have to prepare them in advance if they’re going to be ready.

One of the things I eat for the nutrients is beets. They help with O2 with the bloodstream and lactic acid breakdown. A lot of olympians make them a part of their diet. So my wife would make a ton of them for me, but it’s really messy to cook them in the house. I learned about AltRed, thanks to my buddy Travis, a product manager there.

It’s my love of AltRed that actually led me to Hoist.

How did you discover Hoist?

It was odd the way it happened. At an event in Wisconsin, Hoist’s tent was right by the AltRed tent. My wife and kids were hanging out—and drinking Hoist. I was thirsty, so I tried some of my daughter’s Watermelon. My first thought was, “This is really good!”

Honestly, I thought it was flavored water at first, but as I was reading the ingredients, I was impressed that sugar levels were extremely low. And the carbs and sodium levels were spot on. I actually said out loud, “You know, if you could put an IV bag in a bottle, this would be it.” The rep at the tent laughed, because that’s exactly what it is!

How does Hoist impact you?

I needed this stuff last year! Sometimes I’d be dehydrated before the race even started. In Texas or Utah, you’re losing everything when you sweat. Even checking into an event in the heat can mean you need to replenish yourself.

I believe in what I put in my body, which means getting hydration right is so important. Before a race, I would eat/drink a tablet of Nuun to stay hydrated. Problem was, I had to pee a lot. You’re diluting your body when you flush out fluids, too. That night before the race in Wisconsin, with Hoist, I had to pee less. And Hoist doesn’t give me the sugar rush I get with sports drinks.

I’m still new to Hoist, but staying hydrated is key for me when it comes to performance. I’m going to start Hoist early, in the days leading up to a race, and can’t wait to feel that impact.

Big thanks to Mike for being willing to advocate for Hoist as he experiences it! We look forward to hearing more about his journey with Hoist and following him as he breaks his records in races and fundraising this year. Follow along with us at @patriotracer and find out more about his story (or donate!) at thepatriotracer.com.