American Hero Inspiration Mike Leal

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Never Quit

A brief story on the life of Mike Leal, former US Army Ranger


My name is Mike Leal; a 32-year-old Army Veteran.   I work full-time as a personal trainer and bodybuilding prep coach and have coached more than 1000 clients over the last 5 years.  Coming from the small town of Marcellus in Upstate New York, I grew up in a wealthy household – the outcome of parents who did very well for themselves.  My life wasn’t too bad.  Middle school and High School were fun; I played varsity sports throughout high school and even played lacrosse in college. ​

​One day before my 21st birthday I did something that would forever change the course of my life – my friends injected heroin into my arm.  The next 2 years of my life were some of the most difficult I have ever dealt with:   my relationship with my parents and friends deteriorated; I couldn’t work because my addiction ruled my life.  I finally went to rehab the summer between my junior and senior year of college.  I left early thinking I had a grip on my addiction; however, within 2 months I relapsed, and this is when things accelerated at an unstoppablepace.

March 2009, Albany New York:  After 2 years of being addicted to heroin and opiates, I found myself being resuscitated by my roommate.   I woke up to him saying, “Mike you scared me!” He then gave me a hug and said, “Don’t do that shit.”  This was the bottom I needed to hit to finally take hold of my life.   I went through one of the roughest weeks of withdrawal anyone could have gone through – crying, puking, hot flashes, and bouts of shivering.   I made it through all of that and realized one thing I needed to do…  I needed to get out.

Making it through that 6 days of agony prepared me coincidentally for the path I was about to take.

 I went to the local Army Recruiting Station and asked them for a job working on computers.  I was asked if I wanted to be “Airborne”, to which I said, “Hell no! I’m afraid of heights!”  I settled for a job as a 25Q.  I couldn’t tell you what they do because I decided while I was at my AIT (Advanced IndividualTraining) that would completely change my life.

​My best friend Nick told me about his brother, a Ranger.  He spoke so enthusiastically about how awesome it was to be one, and of their 3-month deployments.   Me being a young naïve soldier, all I heard was 3-month deployments.  This is where I learned something called persistence.  I bugged my leadership to send me to Airborne School, which was a prerequisite to go Ranger Battalion.  I bugged them every single day until they got so mad that they would make me do pushups until my body collapsed.  After 2 months of nagging them, I finally got my orders to go to Airborne School.

​I knew that I needed to get in shape to be a Ranger, but still had no freaking clue what they did.  My friend told me I needed to be in the best shape of my life, so I learned to be disciplined.  I started eating healthier and pushing my workouts to the extreme.   I was a cardio-bunny and did my best to lift heavy in conjunction with that.  I made the mistake that all young soldiers make:  buying a boat-load of supplements that didn’t help me because I didn’t know how to eat properly.  I started focusing on eating much higher protein and cleaner sources of carbohydrates to fuel my body for the grueling workouts I put myself through.

​I graduated Airborne School and headed to Ranger Battalion.  I was in the first RASP (Ranger Assessment and Selection Program) class after it had changed from RIP (Ranger Indoctrination Program).  I am here to tell you, I was pushed to my physical and mental limits for the first time – EVER – in my life.  I get asked all the time on social media how to prepare for selections in the military (Special Forces Assessment and Selection and/or Ranger Assessment and Selection Program). There is just one answer:  Don’t quit…  Don’t ever quit.  No matter what, you keep fighting until your last breath – that is the type of person they are looking for.   What I learned is that same mentality is equally as important in bodybuilding.  Shortly after my first deployment I went to Ranger School.

​Ranger School is the premier leadership school in the military.   I learned a lot about myself in ranger school. I learned what true hunger was – the feeling of starvation constantly messing with my mind.  For those of you who have been in contest prep, feeling like you are going to die, it is the same feeling.   I also learned many qualities of a good leader, which I am fortunate enough to possess and pass on to my team members.

I will place my athletes and clients needs before my own.  My self-sacrifice as a leader has been crucial in keeping my team together and working as a unit.

​I deployed half a dozen times in my military career to Afghanistan.  Hundreds of missions and hundreds of miles covered in my time, but the one thing I learned (through all the fire fights, dying friends, and personal sacrifice was this:  Always keep your head up and drive on.   I have been in some scary situations, which must be omitted due to the sensitivity of the events, but the one thing that got me through all the rough times was fitness.

​During my time with Battalion, I learned about powerlifting and bodybuilding.   I was obsessed about becoming a powerlifter.  After a few years of training like a powerlifter, I noticed that I had put on way too much body fat.  During my final deployment as a Ranger I read up on how to properly diet and lose body fat.  I learned by reading some books and articles from the two coaches I idolize – Shelby Starnes and John Meadows.  Losing about 40lbs, I realized just how important nutrition was to achieve my goal.

​I moved to North Carolina to finish out the rest of my military obligation and competed in my first body building show in men’s middle-weight body building.   After my first show, I became addicted to competing and pushing the envelope with my training.  After having a few years of competing under my belt and helping fellow teammates, I decided to start coaching.   I coached and prepped numerous people for free so that I could learn and further progress in the coaching world.  I made a decision to end my military career after 8 years and 6 deployments to pursue coaching full time.  It was a huge gamble, but Team Leal has been very successful.  We have numerous clients ranging from amateurs to pros.

​My past is what I attribute to making this journey a success.  I went through a lot of hard times and always seemed to prevail.   Even to this day I cannot believe how far I have come as anindividual.  When people meet me, they would never guess I was once a heroin addict, or that I was a US Army Ranger.  Therefore, I believe in my clients and know they can overcome anything.  I will always stand by my statement to Never Quit.   I will Never Quit.  I will always push myself and my clients to achieve greatness.  Never Quit.

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