The meaning of “Duty, Honor, Country” is something many come to understand during their days attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point or serving in the military. General Douglas MacArthur, eloquently described “Duty, Honor, Country” as “hallowed words” that “reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. ”
For Mike Sheehy, a graduate of West Point and a veteran member of the 75th Ranger Regiment, these words have been the guiding principles of his life.
“I grew up in a military family, my father, three brothers and many friends,” said the 44-year-old, who lives outside of Chicago and has a 10-year-old son. “My life has always been about doing something to make the world better, about community, family and camaraderie.”
That feeling didn’t leave Sheehy when he left the military. Instead, his new challenge came in finding a way to live it in his civilian life. Running was the thread. In the military, running is a core part of physical fitness, and it’s taught from the very first day. Running is how new military members learn cadences, learn they are only as strong as their weakest man and learn they are better together. It becomes a symbol for military esprit de corps—for working as a team and never leaving a man behind.
Sheehy ran his first marathon while at West Point. It’s also when he became interested in the idea of ultramarathons. He likens running an ultra to preparing for a mission.
“You have to do the right training, rehearsing and preparing so that on race day, or mission day, you can execute your plan and achieve your goal,” said Sheehy who works at Abbott Laboratories as senior director of global procurement at Abbott, title sponsor of the Abbott World Marathon Majors. “It fulfills a need to have a goal, an obstacle to overcome. It’s all part of the military background. Preparing to know you will succeed.”
Sheehy eventually began raising money for charities through his running. He discovered more people were drawn to give when he ran longer events.
“My ‘talent’ is being able to endure running long distances,” Sheehy said. “I want to do these epic challenges, and bring people with me. It’s about running, showing people what they can do for their community and how they can give back given their gifts.”
After a friend was diagnosed with leukemia, the veteran set out on two long-distance quests. The first was running 500 miles from San Diego to Phoenix in time for the 2010 Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon, running more than a marathon a day for 17 days. Sheehy also realized there was an opportunity to better a Guinness Book of World Records feat—running the most miles in a week. He set the new record at 408 miles, bettering the previous high mark by 58 miles. Through the two events, Sheehy raised almost $80,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of San Diego.
As Sheehy has progressed with his running and fundraising, race-day nerves have been eclipsed by the struggles of those benefited by the charities he supports. He also doesn’t want to let down those who have supported him.
“I’m not just out there running as a random number. What I’m doing means something to these people,” Sheehy said. “My anxieties and nerves pale in comparison to the greater good of the causes. Remembering that helps me overcome any fears.”
In 2016, Sheehy directed his efforts toward raising awareness and funds for veterans and their families through the Wounded Warrior Project, culminating with running the 2016 Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix (CCC) 100K that winds through Italy, Switzerland and France.
“By running something I think the military community would respect, it fits with the hard work the soldiers are doing,” said Sheehy in explaining why he’s chosen to run one of the most challenging and revered ultra races in the world.
Sheehy ran the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run in Missouri in 2015 to fulfill his final application requirements for the CCC race.
“The goal is to raise awareness about what soldiers face when they return home from the battlefield,” Sheehy said. “By taking it to the starting line, we should be able to raise money for the cause as well.”