Mike Gallardo is a member of the Wounded Warrior Softball team playing two games at Wright State University on Saturday. CONTRIBUTED

Archdeacon: Mom’s words, spirit guide Wounded Warrior through life

Although his mom died when he was just 10, Mike Gallardo believes her words, her spirit, her will – even after the tortuous route he’s often had to travel – still are alive in him and show themselves time and again, including, he hopes, Saturday at Wright State’s Ron Nischwitz Stadium.

“My mom was a single mom who raised us three kids in Los Angeles,” he said by phone from his home in San Antonio, Texas. “Even working two jobs, she always managed to get to our games and support us.

“She had cancer and before she died I remember her telling me, ‘Try to be your best at everything you do. And don’t quit. Don’t ever quit.’”

While that hasn’t been easy, Gallardo, now 33, has tried to take that to heart numerous ways ever since:

—After his mom’s death, his stuttering problem worsened and he was often bullied in school. At home, the three kids – the oldest a high school junior – knew they to do something to help pay the bills and stay in their house rather than go into foster care.

“Our aunt finally adopted us but just to say we had someone,” he said. “Really, we pretty much raised ourselves.”

He would go to Costco, buy candy and then sell it around the neighborhood at a higher price. He mowed lawns, did odd jobs, anything to make money.

—He drew on his mom’s “can-do” approach when he decided to forgo a college baseball scholarship, join the Army and was sent to Iraq as a Delta 19 reconnaissance specialist attached to the 1st Cavalry Division.

A Cav scout is one of the most dangerous assignments there is, especially when, like Gallardo, you are the exposed gunner on your Humvee. As an advance unit, you obtain combat and battlefield information, engage the enemy when necessary and often clear routes of explosive devices (IEDS.)

—He tried to steel himself with his mom’s “don’t quit” mantra when he lost his leg after trying to save his unconscious commander from their burning vehicle following an IED explosion, an act of bravery that won him the Purple Heart.

—-He said he tried to channel Mom again after he got the dire prognosis – the doctors told him he never would run or do a lot of other physical things he once did – and fell into depression, a situation he first tried to remedy with alcohol and reclusiveness.

“Back when I was hurt a lot of guys in my situation resorted to alcohol and pills,” he said. “There were a lot of suicides and pretty soon I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to fight through this’. I kept thinking what my mom had said.”

And nine months after his amputation, there he was completing the Kona Ironman competition in Hawaii – cycling 112 miles, swimming 2.5 miles and running 26.2 miles – and soon after that was a CrossFit champion competing against able-bodied athletes.

“People were like who is this dude,” he said with a laugh.

—His mother’s gumption is what emboldened him to apply for a graphic design internship with the MLB Network Veteran Apprenticeship Program, even though he knew nothing about graphic creation or how to work with the Adobe Creative Cloud programs they used.

Still, within a year, he had won a Best Visual Emmy for his work on the intro MLB Tonight.

—And finally, Gallardo hopes to channel his mom again Saturday at Ron Nischwitz Stadium on the Wright State campus when he and his Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team (WWAST) play a pair of games against able-bodied teams to raise funds for various Miami Valley veterans’ causes.

At 9 a.m. the WWAST plays an All Star team of military and first responders. At 2 p.m. the WWAST meet the Dayton Legends Softball Club All Stars.

In between the games there will be an 11 a.m. celebration of Gold Star Families who lost loved ones in battle. Saturday’s tickets are just $5.

“I like coming in with the softball team,” said Gallardo, “I always get to meet someone new. There are people I can help by telling them what to do and what not to do.”

He said that includes sharing the advice he got from his mom.

Joining the Army

Gallardo’s birthday is September 11, so when the 9/11 attacks happened in 2001 he was especially shaken by the roller-coaster emotions of the day.

“I took it as a sign,” he said. “I felt I had to do something for my country.”

He decided to fast track his way through his remaining year of high school, give up his baseball scholarship and enter the service.

The nearest recruitment office was in a strip of neighborhood shops.

“It was a small place – all the service branches had cubicles there – and I decided the first one I came to I’d join,” he said.

“It happened to be the Army and I said. “I want to make as real difference and said ‘What’s the one thing you need? The one thing other guys don’t want to sign up for?’”

He said he was told about Delta 19 recon specialists: “They said it was pretty dangerous.”

Once in Iraq he said he was assigned duty along MSR Tampa, the main supply route that came out of Kuwait and went through southern Iraq and then Baghdad before going on to Syria.

The “eyes and ears” of the Army, he and his recon mates cleared the way for troops and supplies coming behind them.

Gallardo said he was part of the removal of 26 IEDS.

“I got some concussions and took some shrapnel, but I never really thought about it and kept going,” he said.

Then came the 27th IED. It was June of 2007 and Gallardo said his unit needed to clear a route for a “battalion-sized” mission.

He said they spotted an explosive device in the path of a nearby foot patrol and the guys in his Humvee made the collective decision to run over it in hopes the vehicle’s tire would absorb the blast.

It turned out to be a daisy chain IED – two explosives wired together – and the blast blew Gallardo out of his gunner’s hatch and left him unconscious.

When he awoke he said he saw his commander lying unconscious in the disabled, burning vehicle.

Under an RPG attack, he hobbled over and tried opening the jammed door.

“I pushed my foot against the vehicle to gain leverage and that’s when I noticed the door was on fire and my Achilles tendon had melted away,” he said. “My foot was just hanging there.”

He passed out again and woke up later in the hospital.

Over the next six to seven months he would undergo 10 surgeries as doctors tried to save his leg. The situation continued to worsen and finally he said he told doctors:

“Chop it off!”

They pressed for alternative treatments, but he was adamant and his left leg was amputated just below the knee.

A period of depression followed and he said he began to drink excessively and avoid people.

“I was afraid they’d hurt me or I’d hurt them,” he said quietly.

He said he saw other wounded soldiers enduring the same slide with booze and pills. Too many, he said, committed suicide:

“It finally hit me. I had pull myself out of it. Like my mom said, ‘Don’t quit.’”

‘Wanted to prove everyone wrong’

He said he started doing a little physical therapy, first trying to run 200 meters, then 400.

“I wanted to prove everyone wrong,” he said.

He figured the ultimate statement would come with the Kona Ironman, which he completed in 15 hours and 34 minutes. After that he gravitated to CrossFit and became something of a YouTube star with his physical feats.

The people at the MLB Network were just as impressed by the way he overcame his lack of knowledge and experience in graphic design with an unwavering work ethic and will.

Now, while also being a father to two young sons, he’s training to make the U.S. Paralympic track team.

And when you already have a Purple Heart and an Emmy, a gold medal doesn’t sound so far-fetched.

But he admitted there has been a much grander reward.

“I have people who have known me and my family a long time and they say they see my mom coming out in me,” he said quietly. “I figure she’s guiding me though all this.

“I’m able to show people what happens when you don’t quit.”

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