RICHMOND, Va. -- Every Tuesday night, the main studio at Endorphin Fitness roars to life with a cycling and fitness class that is not for beginners.
Mickie Fleming is right in the middle of the action and right at home. He is proof that intense training works, having finished his first Iron Man Triathalon last September in Tennessee.
“To come down that red carpet after 14 hours and 15 minutes in 102 degree weather, yeah it was special. It was definitely something I'll remember for the rest of my life.”
Having run the Monument Avenue 10K and Richmond half marathon before...the toughest part of the Iron Man for Fleming was swimming. He had to really start at the beginning for that part of the race.
“I started swimming with the 4 and 5 year old kids, learning how to blow bubbles to the fishies and listen to the fishies,” Fleming said.
“Here I go in there, 6 foot tall, 200 pounds, tattoos and a mohawk. Missing a finger. They thought I was either in a gang or in WWF.”
Fleming covered more than 140 total miles finishing his first Ironman, but he says he traveled much further than that just to get to the starting line.
Fleming first went to work at the age of 14 to support his family, working as a bus boy and waiter in various restaurants. Even though he was much younger than most of his co-workers, they treated him as an equal - and not always in the most positive ways.
“The kitchen is right by the bar, and the bartender is making drinks for the guys working in the back. I was the salad boy. so I said 'Hey, give him a little drink too.'”
His drinking then escalated to an average of a quart of vodka each day. At the age of 18, he tried cocaine for the first time.
It wouldn't be his last.
“We were at a party and other people were doing it. It looked fun, it looked interesting. I did it and I liked it. I liked it too much,” Fleming said.
Fleming then spent the better part of the next two decades losing jobs, his home, and his family due to his alcohol and drug abuse.
“It was unmanageable. My life became unmanageable. In my mind, I thought I was handling everything but I wasn't."
He went to his doctor for treatment of high blood pressure, but got a much different diagnosis instead.
“I went back the next day and he handed me a prescription. I looked at it and it said Blileys/Bennett. Funeral, casket, coffin, I'll give you 6 months."
“Your liver is eating your kidney, your gallbladder isn't working. Without a higher power or you getting your stuff straight, you have 6 months," the doctor said.
Fleming spent two weeks detoxifying when a friend took him for a walk around Belle Isle. But walking turned into jogging, which turned into running. Fleming started using exercise as his main aid in recovery.
Mickie is now a regular at Endorphin and a regular in competition, be it running or triathlons. He said he regrets nothing that he has done because it's all led him to where he is today.
“Everything happens for a reason. You play your cards to the best of your ability. But they key is, you learn from your mistakes," Fleming said. "You never know who you're inspiring and who you're going to help or who's watching you or who's feeding off of you. Doing the next right thing and helping people is what I'm about now," he said.
Fleming shares his story with anyone willing to listen and regularly counsels people going through similar situations. He's living proof that you can be so close to death and still be so full of life.
“Nothing comes easy in life. If I continue to put half as much effort into doing the next right thing and working hard as I did into drinking and drugging, then like I said, the sky's the limit.”
"I'm happy every day. I get a second chance at life and I'm not going to screw it up. Temptation? Nah, I'm good," Fleming said.
Fleming will run a half marathon in Puerto Rico later in March and will compete in triathlons in Virginia in May and Maryland later in the summer.
He’s also coaching 10K teams for the Sportsbackers in advance of this year’s Monument Avenue 10K.
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