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VCU grad on mission to 'be the light,' compete in Ironman

Posted at 12:50 AM, Nov 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-09 01:04:57-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- A 26-year-old athlete and VCU graduate said his mission is to “be the light” after personal battles with alcohol, jail and loss helped him to the path of resilience.

That path has led Mario Mejia to his first ever Ironman competition in Mexico in two weeks.

That includes 2.4 miles of swimming, a 112-mile bike ride, topped off with a 26.2-mile marathon.

Mejia, a first generation Hispanic American, has faced uphill battles for most of his life.

In fact, he experienced homelessness growing up, but still managed to put himself through college.

After losing his father to cancer, Mejia started struggling with alcohol, landing him in jail three times.

“And just dealing with jail and sobriety, the DUI,” Mejia remembered. “I was a little bit depressed, so I started running."

That led Mejia to sign up for the Richmond Marathon. And he said he was biking since his licence had gotten taken away for a year, so adding in swimming was not that big of a hurdle.

Mejia decided to compete in his first Half Ironman in December of 2019 just three months before race day.

Mejia said his first full Ironman on Nov. 22 will mean so much more than just competing -- and he aims to qualify for the world championship in Hawaii.

He is sponsored by local non-profit, Hearts of Empowerment, which was started by friends of his from VCU.

The group works to help charities, causes and people like Mejia.