Mike Gallardo: The Wounded Warrior Who Never Quits
One man fought at the frontline in Iraq, the other fought crime and evil within this country’s borders. Both were drawn to duty by the horror of 9/11.
Mike Gallardo and Eric Basek have both gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve and protect the citizens of this country. Independently, their actions and their examples are genuinely awe-inspiring. Now that they have joined forces, there is no telling what they will accomplish next. While they may fit seamlessly together, their stories are too big to fit in one piece. So we broke them into two parts, and Part Two is all about Mike Gallardo.
Mike Gallardo was just ten years old when his mother died, leaving him and his brothers on their own.
The boys banded together, raising themselves in the L.A. home their mother had bought herself. At age 11, Mike was being tormented by kids in school. It was all too much for a young boy to cope with, but Mike found a way.
School fell by the wayside as Mike called upon a memory of his mother selling Easter baskets she made. He ditched classes and went to Costco instead, where he bought candy at cheap prices and resold it for a profit. He then moved into cutting grass to make more money, as he and his brothers all worked together to make ends meet and move forward without their mother. “It was awful but brought us together stronger,” Mike says. “It gave us the will to survive and succeed.”
Mike made it through school, willing himself to push forward. He earned a baseball scholarship for college. It wasn’t important to Mike if he was good enough or not, because he’d made his mind up to be good at something. If he was going to do it, he reasoned, he’d go to the top, because that is how he would succeed. He was on his way – until 9/11 happened.
September 11 was already meaningful to Mike – It’s his birthday. He took it as a sign, that day terrorists attacked, that he was meant to do something bigger than baseball. He was meant to serve.
Tamping down his nerves, Mike Gallardo went straight to the central recruiting station in his town.
He had no specific plan as to what he would do. Entering the office with four cubicles, each one representing a different branch, Mike chose the closest one.
“What are you guys short on?” he asked the Army recruiter. “19 Deltas? Whatever that is- sign me up.” The recruiter explained this was a dangerous choice. The 19 Deltas work in small teams, gathering intelligence and pushing it along the line. If he was captured…. The recruiter dangled the end of the sentence.
“That sounds good. I’ll do that. If the odds are against me, I want that,” Mike replied.
Other than his brothers, Mike had been on his own for so long, fighting against such formidable odds, it had become his way of life. This one-man- philosophy had gotten him through childhood but it didn’t mesh well with the Army, and Mike struggled in boot camp. He laughed in the face of discipline until the instructors began casting his discipline upon others. That, Mike says, is when it hit him that he was now part of a team.
“It really transformed me because I was never like that. I was always an individual just worrying about myself, besides my brothers.”
Mike was a changed man, now invested more in the welfare of his comrades than in his own. He even balked at the notion of surviving when others did not, so much so that he volunteered for the gunner position on the vehicle. He was the guy sticking out. The guy who would be shot first. He wanted that responsibility more than he wanted to live through the loss of anyone in his unit.
Mike Gallardo survived 26 IED blasts while deployed. Then came the day that changed his life again.
He was on a battalion-sized mission. His job was to clear the route to make it safe for the others behind him. Faced with a split second decision, he and the men in his vehicle purposely drove over an IED, trusting their vehicle would absorb the blast, in order to protect the men behind them. The plan was crazy and heroic and terrifying all at once. And it worked – sort of.
Although the tire of their vehicle absorbed the blast, the engine fell out and Mike was blown out of the vehicle. Dazed by the impact, he raced back to free the truck commander who was trapped inside. His efforts resulted in his Achilles tendon melting, and Mike passed out.
After ten surgeries and several months in the hospital, Mike made the decision to amputate his lower leg. His doctor advised against it, explaining there were more procedures and more hardware to be tried, to possibly save his leg. But Mike wasn’t having it. He was burnt out from it all and carried a newfound respect for the men and women injured far worse than he, enduring far more painful recoveries. He knew his own recovery needed to change.
“Dude, you crazy? Just chop that shit off and let’s go!”
With the decision made, the amputation was done, and the lower half of his left leg was gone.
Mike was ready to move on but his doctors cautioned him it wasn’t going to be as easy as that. He’d never run again, or participate in any of the things he used to, they told him.
Mike believed them and fell into a deep depression. But then his mother’s voice played in his memory, “Never quit no matter what. Always fight it out.”
Mike snapped out of it, hell-bent on proving the doctor wrong and reclaiming his life. That decision and the commitment to that decision changed things for Mike again.
He started looking around for the biggest challenge he could find. The Kona Marathon seemed like a good choice. He’d never been to Hawaii and figured this was a good reason to go. Then he found out what he’d signed up for; The Kona Ironman consists of a 2 ½ mile swim, followed by 112 miles on a bike, and finished with a full marathon – 26 miles. Okay, he thought, I can do this.
Mike Gallardo completed a half Ironman in 8 hours.
This alone may be enough for anyone else, but Mike used it as a launching point rather than a finish line. Still, he realized the extent of the challenge he’d set for himself. The half Ironman was extremely difficult. The thought of doubling that almost shook him. But when he took the course that day, he shifted his focus.
“Sixteen hours,” he thought. “If I keep focusing on 16 hours I already failed.” Instead, he focused on one stroke at a time, then one revolution at a time, and then one step at a time. He found a rhythm and it became easier. But then he hit a wall. He was exhausted and he still had 26 miles to go, and he made a mistake. Dropping from a run to a walk, he was tapped out. Once more he dug deep to find the strength he needed. This time it was his brothers’ voices coming back to him, replaying movie quotes in his mind and urging him on.
He finished the Kona Ironman in 15 hours and 36 minutes.
This is where he had earned the right to kick back and feel good about himself – again. But Mike Gallardo was just getting started.
With the Ironman behind him, Mike turned to CrossFit and adaptive athlete competitions. His never quit attitude took him into the competitive world, and straight to the top. “It was pretty cool at the elite level,” he says, “But there was still something missing.”
He’d survived a tragic childhood, losing his mother and fending for himself with his brothers. He’d survived Iraq and the brunt of 26 IEDs. He’d lost part of his leg, finished one of the toughest IronMan competitions there is, and risen to elite status in the CrossFit world, and he still felt there was more he could do. That’s when he met Eric Basek.
In spite of all he’d done and all he’d achieved, Mike was still a shy quiet person. He dreaded nothing more than people coming up to talk to him, as he’d never lost the stutter that plagued him. Wary of others after all he’d been through, Mike still held on to trust issues stemming from his combat experiences.
“It’s hard to trust people when they’re constantly trying to blow you up or shoot you,” he half-jokes. But Eric was someone Mike found himself able to trust. Eric helped Mike get a service dog and worked with Mike until his stutter was history. Mike remembered his mother, and how she taught him to always help others succeed. Eric practices the same principle. Mike’s life changed again.
Primed with new resolve, Mike pounced on a job posting at Major League Baseball. It didn’t matter that he knew nothing about graphic art, he explained at the interview because he would work harder than anyone else, and he would become the best at what he does. That is his M.O.
Mike got that job. He relocated to NJ and is close with Eric and his family. He also kept his word to Major League Baseball. He worked hard. Very hard. And he excelled.
Mike Gallardo, who’d walked away from a college baseball scholarship to serve in the Army, won an Emmy award for his work with Major League Baseball.
His path, it seems, though not meant to be on the field, is still tied to the sport.
Now Mike and Eric are a force to reckon with, as they have combined their efforts to help others succeed. The informal Boot Camp for Marine recruits, detailed in Eric’s story, is a prime example.
His mother taught him the value of helping others succeed. It was a lesson Mike Gallardo has never forgotten. He overcame enormous struggles to get to where he is. He has impacted countless lives. And he continues to give back. It is clear he carries his mother’s lesson with him. “I only had her for ten years, but she taught me so much,” he says. “Even now, me and my brothers try to make her proud.”
Ready to be inspired? Listen in to the full interview with Mike and Eric here <<