From tragedy to triathlete - Mejia conquers past to emerge as Ironman competitor

Mejia conquers past to emerge as Ironman competitor

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - It’s a story some might say is made for a movie- a first-generation American whose past challenges could make training for an Ironman Triathlon look easy.

Mario Mejia calls his parents his inspiration. His father is from Mexico, his mother from Guatemala, both moving their family here in search of a better life. Mejia’s father worked to open his own mechanics shop and things were going well.

But when Mario was 12 years old, his parents went through a divorce, his father’s business went under during the recession and he, his dad and brother found themselves homeless.

“We didn’t quite have a place to go, so there was a lot of couch surfing and going up to Maryland to stay with the nearest relatives, and driving back to Virginia early at like four in the morning so I could go to school here," Mejia recalled, adding that he never told his teachers of his situation or why he didn’t complete some of his assignments on time, not wanting to be treated differently.

Mario and his family endured that for about a year and a half, but he still earned his way into college and put himself through VCU, graduating with a degree in marketing and a minor in psychology. At the beginning of his sophomore year, however, he suffered another blow. His father passed away after a battle with cancer, and Mario turned to alcohol. He said that he eventually hit a point at which he’d blackout from drinking about three times per week.

“About a year and a half ago, I had gotten my first DUI,” Mejia shared. “I lost my license, I went to jail for a little bit.”

It’s the point he calls the lowest of his life, but it’s also when he had his epiphany.

“It was another experience kind of sitting there in jail and looking around me, seeing that this isn’t really the crowd that I’m supposed to be surrounding myself with.”

In addition, he wanted to fulfill a promise he made to his late father.

“One thing I had always promised to him was that I was going to become the best man I could possibly become,” the now-26 year old said. “When I had hit that lowest point in my life, I felt like I wasn’t really keeping my word.”

Mario’s new chapter started almost immediately after he spent that week in jail. Seeking a challenge and a goal, he signed up for the Richmond Marathon. He lost 30 pounds and completed the race, but he still wanted more. Last December, Mejia took part in his first triathlon, a half-Ironman, and on November 22 in Cozumel, Mexico, he’ll take aim at a full Ironman Triathlon- a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.22-mile run. All in all, 140 total miles.

“It’s been a full year of disciplining myself when it comes to dieting, exercising and making time to make sure I get my workout regiment in.”

The Ironman will be just the latest mountain to climb for Mejia. As for the other climbs he has conquered, he now gladly shares those in hopes of helping others triumph over their own struggles as well.

“I feel inspired by others really finding inspiration in me. I feel healthy and blessed to be able to have been able to change my life around the way I did.”

Mejia has been sober for 16 months. In his free time, he volunteers for Hearts of Empowerment, an organization that brings awareness to countless charities and causes.

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