Episode 72 – Unstoppable Transformed Tough Guy with Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon
Yes, that is how Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon describes himself. Skip has served as an internal Medicine physician in the Army rising to the rank of colonel.
Throughout much of his life, Skip has also been a wrestler competitor, and he has been good at the sport.
In 2014 Skip discovered that he was suffering from a deep depression. As he worked through his condition and emerged from it he also wrote his Amazon Bestselling book entitled Wrestling Depression Is Not For Wimps.
I very much enjoyed my interview with Skip Mondragon and I sincerely hope that you will as well and that Skip’s conversation and stories will inspire you.
About the Guest:
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon, MD is a transformed tough guy. Since recovering from depression in 2014, he’s been on a quest to help ten million men struggling with depression, one man at a time. He’s practiced Internal Medicine for over thirty years. Colonel Mondragon is a twenty-six-year Army veteran, spent eighteen months in combat zones, and is a national wrestling champion.
Skip’s book Wrestling Depression Is Not for Wimps! was published in February 2020 and is the author of Inspired Talks Volume 3, an Amazon International Bestseller. He’s spoken on different stages, including at TEDXGrandviewHeights in December 2021. Skip’s true claim to fame is his five independent and gainfully employed children, his four amazing grandchildren, and especially his wife Sherry. She’s a fellow author and a tough Army wife. Sherry has endured raising teenagers on her own, a variety of moves to new duty stations, and far too many of Skip’s idiosyncrasies for forty-one years of marriage.
Skip can be reached at:
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is an Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
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Michael Hingson 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson 01:21
Good morning or afternoon wherever you happen to be and welcome to unstoppable mindset. Today, our guest is Donald “Skip” Mondragon. I met Donald not too long ago, actually at podapolooza. And we’ve talked about that before. It’s an event where podcasters would be podcasters. And people who want to be interviewed by podcasters all get together. Sometimes one person has all three at once. But I met Skip. And we talked a little bit and I said would you be interested and willing to come on the podcast? And he said yes. So now he’s stuck with us? Because here we are. Skip. How are you?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 01:58
I am doing great. Michael, delighted to be here.
Michael Hingson 02:02
Now where are you located?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 02:04
I am in the Dallas Fort Worth area.
Michael Hingson 02:06
So there you go two hours ahead of where we are and any fires nearby? Hopefully not. No, sir.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 02:14
Thank you, Lord,
Michael Hingson 02:15
right now us the same way. And we’re, we’re blessed by that. But it is getting hot in both places, isn’t
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 02:22
it? Oh, yes, indeed.
Michael Hingson 02:25
Well, tell me a little bit about you, maybe your early life and so on. And you know, we’ll kind of go from there.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 02:31
Yes, sir. And the third of eight children born of Hispanic parents, but meager means but born in Denver, Colorado. My father went to the Korean War, and came back a broken man. The man that went to war was not the man that came home. He suffered, I’m convinced with bipolar disorder, PTSD, and he was an alcoholic. And when my dad drank, he was violent. My sister, my eldest sister, Roma tells us that when my dad would come home, we would run and hide, because we didn’t know which dad was coming home. The kind, gentle, fun loving dad for the angry mean, violent dad. So this was my early childhood. I actually don’t have memories before the age of seven, other than a couple little fleeting memories. So I don’t remember a lot of that I get history really from my sister, my older sister,
Michael Hingson 03:33
I help that because he’s just blocked it out or something worse.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 03:37
Yes. It’s it’s gone. Those I just don’t have those memories are not accessible. But that was my early childhood. It was chaotic. It was. It was chaotic. It was traumatic. But I came from very loving family. Eight, you know, seven siblings were all close in age. 10 years separate us. We’re still close to this day enjoy being together with one another loud, boisterous. Or they’re very affectionate. No. My siblings are in Texas. I have a brother in the Baltimore area, Maryland, one in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’m here in Texas. The others are all in Colorado.
Michael Hingson 04:20
So I guess with a number in Colorado, that’s the meeting place.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 04:25
Yes, sir. Between my wife and I, my mother is the only living parent. And so we go back home as we call it to his in Colorado. Yes.
Michael Hingson 04:36
Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. Indeed. So you grew up? Did you go to college?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 04:45
Yes, sir. tended start my college career at the University of Notre Dame ROTC scholarship, left there, in my fifth semester confused, not quite sure what I was going to do. There’s this tug, am I going to go into ministry or says medicine I was pre med at the time I left school I was out of school for three plus three and a half years trying to decide what I was going to do. And then I transferred into all Roberts University where I finished my undergraduate work for Roshan first in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And their I went to medical school and it’s there for you that I met my sweetheart sherry. And this year we celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary,
Michael Hingson 05:30
Pierre just ahead of us by a year and a half, I guess because we will, our 40s will be in November. No congratulation, which is great. Now, we knew the marriage was gonna last I’m, I’m gonna get shot for this, I’m sure but we knew our marriage was gonna last because the wedding was supposed to start at four in the afternoon on Saturday, the 27th of November of 90. Yes, and the church was not filled up like it was supposed to be at four o’clock. And it got to be an I remember it well for 12 Suddenly, the doors opened and this whole crowd of people came in. And so we started although it was 14 or 12 minutes late, or 15 by the time they got in chair. And it wasn’t until later that we learned that everyone was out in their cars until the end of the USC Notre Dame game. Being here in California, my wife getting her master’s from USC, oh my gosh, we knew the marriage was gonna last when we learned that not what USC want the snot out of Notre Dame that
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 06:45
we took some weapons from USC, I’ll be it you back. I was at Notre Dame that year that we we beat them and went on to win the national championship and 73. So that that was a turn of events, if you will, after taking some real whippings the years preceding that from USC.
Michael Hingson 07:07
I you know, I gain an appreciation for football and all seriousness. When it was a couple of years later, I was in Los Angeles and I had a meeting. And somebody was listening on the radio and keeping us apprised the fact that at the end of the first half Notre Dame was leading USC 24 to nothing. And then I got in the car and we started going home. And USC started scoring and scoring. It was with Anthony Davis and man who know about that game, and by the time it was over was 55 Switch 24 USC. But it’s a great rivalry. And I’m glad it exists.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 07:50
Right. I think the next year is when they came to South Bend. And they hug hug him in effigy. So I remember they had this thing there. And it’s
Michael Hingson 08:00
like the USC, USC, don’t let him run against us like that again.
Michael Hingson 08:09
What makes it fun? And as long as it’s a game like that, and people view it that way. It’s great.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 08:16
There you go. It’s a game. That’s all it needs to be. Don’t
Michael Hingson 08:19
take it too seriously by any means. No, sir. But it’s a lot of fun. So, after Oral Roberts and so on you you went off and had some adventures?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 08:32
Yes, sir. What kind of happen next? Well, I went to do further training, internship and residency and Canton, Ohio. And there was a turn of events I had expected I was going to do a military internship and go on and complete my residency with the military. But I received this Dear John letter, approximately six weeks before the interview season was going to close the army telling me I did not receive an army internship and I had to pursue a civilian internship, I think and are you kidding me? I was supposed to be in the Army next year, I hadn’t even looked at civilian internships. And so I was scrambling. This was a day maybe days before the internet. You had to go to the library, look up programs, phone numbers, call them find out what they needed. So you could apply to that program what documents they needed send to each program individually, the documents the letters, arrange a flight. Now they have a centralized application system. So you complete one application, your letters of reference are all uploaded there. Then you decide which programs you want the sent to wait. So I’m doing this video post taste. Making this application season is ending Christmas is going to be approaching and then there’s nothing going to get done. So I gotta get this done. And it was it was hectic ended up in Canton, Ohio. And it was fabulous. I had the best of both worlds great academics, fabulous clinical teaching. And it just so happened. The new program director was retired brigadier general Andre J. Augmentee. And he scared the snot out of us.
Michael Hingson 10:22
What year was this? What year did this take place?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 10:26
I arrived there in 1985. Got it.
Michael Hingson 10:29
So he scared the snot out of you. Oh
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 10:31
my gosh, we call them Dr. Rowe, the big O or the Oh. And when he was when he was coming, we were like, Oh, no deals coming Fall, we’d be at Morning Report, we’d be talking about new cases that were admitted the night before. And he’d asked me to present the case or ask questions. And I would feel like I I felt like the voices on Charlie Brown. Go home and I tell my wife, oh, I can’t seem to answer one interview. Question intelligently. When he is around, he must think I’m the stupidest intern he has ever seen. I I just get so flustered when he was around. I went down in a few months them because I was planning on doing physical medicine rehabilitation. But I had really fallen in love with internal medicine. Because my first few months were on the general internal medicine wards, and then a month in the internal or the intensive care unit. And I really fell in love with internal medicine, went to them and talk and said Dr. Rowe, I I’d like to talk to you. I am interested in drone medicine. But I don’t know that I could be a good internist, I remember him looking at me and say, Skip, you could be a good interest. In fact, you could be a very good internist. And we’d love to keep you in the program. I could write letters that are permanent, so you can stay on the program and train here. That was a turning point for me. You away. He actually became very good friends. My last year, he actually asked me to be the chief president. I didn’t accept because we were expecting our third child at that time preparing to move to join the army and I just couldn’t put that pressure on my wife at that time. But we’re still good friends to this day. Yes, wife. So it went from being that Bumbly Ugg boots, intern to a competent senior resident to friendship as the years went on.
Michael Hingson 12:49
So he figured you out and obviously saw something you and you kind of figured him out a little bit it sounds like oh, yes,
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 12:57
sir. Yes, sir.
Michael Hingson 12:59
Where is he today?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 13:01
He is here in Texas. He is outside of San Antonio. He and his wife Margaret. A little
Michael Hingson 13:06
bit closer than Canton, Ohio.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 13:09
Oh yes sir.
Michael Hingson 13:11
Well, that’s great that you guys are still friends and you can see each other that is that is the way it ought to be. In the end, it’s it’s always great when you can establish a relationship with the teacher. You know, I wrote thunder dog the story of a blind man his guide dog in the triumph of trust at ground zero when I talked in there about Dick herbal Shimer, my geometry teacher. And to this day, we are still friends and chat on the phone on a regular basis.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 13:41
That reminds me of my junior high wrestling coach John Gregerson. We were great friends to this day. And we hadn’t seen one another for almost 1015 plus years. I’d seen him at the I think it was the 1992 1994 NCAA Wrestling Championships division one in North Carolina, and hadn’t seen him to till 2000. Approximately 2015, something like that, when seen one another, but got in touch with him because he had moved back when he retired from teaching there in Colorado. He moved to Wyoming, then moved back to Colorado, gotten in touch with him said to get in touch with you, John, we met when another talks just just like we hadn’t been apart. And I remember upon leaving, talking Adam say, John, I love you. And he looked at me and says, I love you too. And a great man, great relationship. And there’s so much affection in my heart and appreciation for that man. The things he taught me.
Michael Hingson 14:56
So wrestling is a part of your life, I
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 14:58
guess. Oh my goodness. It’s in my blood.
Michael Hingson 15:03
Well tell me about that a little bit.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 15:05
Please. Oh, yes, I, I was miserable at sports any sport. Growing up, I didn’t know how to throw I didn’t know how to catch. I don’t know how to kick. I didn’t know how to run. I failed that tetherball. Okay. So I didn’t know the skills, I wasn’t taught the skills. So wrestling was the first sport that went out for an eighth grade that I thought after if you practice, I think I can be good at this. And IBM think i think i could be really good at this. That was the first time that I wasn’t having to compete against boys that were a lot bigger than I was. Because I was typically the smallest kid in my class. And so I was wrestling in the 85 pound weight class in eighth grade, good lowest weight class. I was having good success. Only eighth grader on the varsity team. I didn’t win a match that year. But I learned lots I gained a lot of confidence. The next year come in and the rest of the room. I’m the best wrestler in that wrestling. But I get so worked up before a match. I couldn’t sleep a wink all night long. So I’d go into that match utterly exhausted mentally and physically. underperform. However, the summer afterwards, I won my first tournament I entered was a state freestyle wrestling tournament, one of the Olympic styles. When my first match, my second, my third match, win my fourth match. Now I’m wrestling for the championship. And I went after that my coach asked me, you know who this guy was you’re wrestling have no idea coach. And he said that guy won this tournament last year. And that further cemented my love for this sport went on. He was a two time district champion in high schools, state runner up and honorable mention All American. So I had a lot of success. Moreso in freestyle wrestling a lot of state tournaments I won many state tournaments placed into Nash national wrestling tournaments as a high schooler and then after. After that, I’ve wrestled some in college and some in freestyle also. But last time it competed was in 2012 and 2013. In the veterans nationals.
Michael Hingson 17:33
How did that go?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 17:35
Oh, how did that go? It went great. I had been wanting to compete again. At ba I still had that bug. Oh, I’d like to do this. The dates the training. I couldn’t work that in. But I’m sitting up in the stands watching the state finals of the of the Georgia state finals with my youngest son Joey, he had completed his wrestling career had he not been ill and injured. He would have been wrestling on that stage that night. He was one of the best hunter and 12 pounders in the state of Georgia, but being ill and injured, he wasn’t there wrestling that night. So we’re watching this I had this wrestling magazine. I think it was USA Wrestling and I’m looking at these dates. Veterans national so it’s gonna be held in conjunction with the senior nationals and I’m looking at this. Tucson, Arizona, May 5, and sixth I say Joey, she’ll train with me. I’d like to compete. Well, my 18 year old son looks and he goes, Okay, Dad, you’re gonna have to do everything I tell you. So Joey became my training partner, my trainer and my manager retrained hard, very hard. So this was mid February. And at first week in May, we’re going out to Tucson. Those first six weeks and I was in great shape. I mean, I trained worked out like a fanatic, but those first few weeks, you know, oh my gosh, you know, I’d come home from practice. Oh, my wife and go Have you had enough old man. I think I’m gonna go soak in the tub, honey. I’d sit on the couch with ice on a shoulder or knee or elbow or sometimes all of those week. By week, my body toughen and there was the day I got up. Because I added an early morning workout in addition to my afternoon workouts, bring my weight down help a little bit with the conditioning. And my feet hit the floor. I got out to do my workout. I thought Oh, am I feeling good? I thought Joey, you better bring your A game today because your man is feeling good. So we went out to Tucson won a national championship. And we’re sitting there taking this picture with the stop sign of a trophy. Now that I got here, it’s big that Joey asked me Dad, was it worth it? All those hot baths, all those ice packs? And I look at him and grin. I say, Yes, it was worth. I had a blast. The next year was a national runner up. So those were the last times I competed, but I’ve coached I’ve been around the sport. My sons all wrestled my four sons, my brothers. For my four brothers. They’re all younger. They all wrestled my brother in law wrestled my father in law was a college wrestler. Wrestling is in my blood. In fact, my kids call me a wrestling groupie. Because I collect wrestling cards. I get wrestling card sign, I get poster side I mug with all these wrestling greats have friends with World Champions and Olympic champions. That’s my blood.
Michael Hingson 20:56
What’s the difference between the Olympic style wrestling and I guess other forms like freestyle wrestling, and so on?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 21:02
Okay, so freestyle and Greco Roman are the two Olympic styles. primary difference in those two styles is in Greco Roman, you can’t attack the legs. That’s the difference in those two. Now, the difference in our style, whether we call school boy or sometimes it’s called catches catch can is you also have what we call a a Down and up position that are done differently the way that is in the scoring. To score for instance, a takedown when you take them to the mat, you have to have more control in freestyle is much faster or in in Greco you don’t have to show the control, you just have to show the exposure of the back. Plus, you can get a five point move with a high flying exposure, the back or if you take a patient or a an opponent from feet to back in freestyle Aggreko, you can get four points for I said, if it’s high flying five points, potentially. Whereas in freestyle, our in our style Americans out, it’s two points for a takedown doesn’t matter. Take them straight to the back, you could get additional points by exposing the back, if you help hold them there long enough, we’ll call a nearfall. And then there’s writing time. So if you’re on the top position, and you control that man for a minute or longer, you’re getting writing time. So there’s those factors that that you have. So it’s it’s and the rules are, are somewhat different. So those are the basic differences in our style and the freedom and the Olympic styles.
Michael Hingson 22:41
But wrestling scoring is pretty much then absolutely objective. It’s not subjective. It’s not an opinion sort of thing. There are specifics,
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 22:51
there are specifics, but then you get into those subjective things. Yeah, it’s a caution. It’s a stall. It’s it’s this and you’re saying, Are you kidding me? Or they say that’s not a takedown you’re going What? What do you mean, that’s not a takedown? You gotta be blind not to call that thing. So there’s still some subjectivity to it. Sure. There is, you know, are they miss? They miss something, the ref misses something in your thing. And you got to be blind dude, you know, that was
Michael Hingson 23:17
a tape. That’s an answer. No, no, no. No, here’s, here’s my question. Is there ever been a time that both wrestlers go after the riff? You know, just check in?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 23:29
I have never seen I have seen some, some, some come off there and give up. You know, escaping something. Yeah, you do to me, your GP and we have to say though, never leave it in the hands of the ref. Never leave it in the hands of the ref. And you you don’t want to leave a match in the hands of the ref that don’t let it come down to that. Wrestle your match. So there’s no question.
Michael Hingson 23:55
Well, so you have wrestled a lot. You went from Canton then I guess you joined the army.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 24:02
Correct? joined the army. Uh huh.
Michael Hingson 24:05
Well, if you would tell me a little bit about about that and what you did and so on.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 24:10
1989 Our first duty station, Lawton, Oklahoma Fort Sill out there on this dreary day, January 3, I believe is gray, dark, you know, overcast, cold, only new to people. My sponsor and his wife. They were the only people we knew when we arrived. I had gone earlier to rent a home for us. And then we were waiting. We our household goods were arriving. Got there. We had three young children. Adam was for Christmas too. And Anjali was four months old. We get there we’re moving in. getting settled. I’m in processing to the arm mean, everything’s new to us. And then I start practicing as a doctor had two colleagues and internal medicine, within six months of me joining the army or if you will come in on active duty, I shouldn’t say joining I had already been on inactive status in the army, going through school and training, but getting their report sale, they turn around and say, well, you’re one colleague, like Keith conkel, was named. He’s going to do a fellowship, infectious disease. And then my other colleague, Lee selfmade, or senior colleague in internal medicine was chief of the clinic chief of the ICU, he decided very abruptly to get out and do a nephrology fellowship, civilian fellowship, so he was getting out of the army. Now they say, well, you’re now the chief of the internal medicine clinic, you’re the medical officer, the chief of the intensive care unit. And guess what? You’re the only internal medicine physician we’re going to have for the summer. Have a good summer. Well, it was worse summer I’ve ever had in my life. Miserable Oh, it was horrible.
Michael Hingson 26:20
So I was so
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 26:21
busy there with with patients and care and responsibilities there and having to tell some patients I’m sorry, we don’t have capacity for you’re going to have to be seen in the civilian sector. Now, mind you, when my two new colleagues came, we had all these patients screaming back saying please, please, please, may I come back, because they knew the care we rendered was superior to what they were getting the care they were receiving in the civilian sector. But it was it was such a demanding physically and emotionally and timewise. spending enormous amounts of time at the clinic and hospital.
Michael Hingson 27:06
So what does Internal Medicine take in
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 27:09
internal medicine, we are specialists for adults, you think of the gamut of non surgical diseases. We take care of adults 18 to end of life. And so our training entails taking care of the common cold, a community acquired pneumonia, that you can treat as an outpatient, to taking care of a patient that’s in the ICU, hooked up to life support. That’s the scope of what we’re trained in. So if you think of the common diseases of adults, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, this is the Bailiwick of an internal medicine physician.
Michael Hingson 27:59
Our biggest exposure to that for Well, first of all, my sister in law was a critical care unit and ICU nurse for a lot of her life. And, and then retired. But anyway, in 2014, my wife contracted double pneumonia, and ARDS, ARDS, oh my gosh. And she ended up in the hospital on a ventilator. And what they were trying to constantly do is to force air into her lungs to try to push out some of the pneumonia. They actually had to use and you’ll appreciate this, a peeps level of 39 just to get air into her lungs. They were so stiff. Yeah, they were so stiff. And no one at the hospital had ever seen any situation where they had to use so much air pressure to get air into her lungs to start to move things around and get rid of the pneumonia. Everyone came from around the hospital just to see the gauges.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 29:02
And your they probably told you this risks injuring her lungs because the pressures are so high. But without the weather, we’re not going to be able to oxygenate her.
Michael Hingson 29:15
Right. And what they said basically was that if she didn’t have pneumonia, her lungs would have exploded with that kind of pressure. Exactly. Because what the average individual when you’re inhaling is a peeps level of like between two and five. So 39 was incredibly high.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 29:33
Oh, yes, absolutely. But she’s glad she recovered.
Michael Hingson 29:37
She did. We’re we’re glad about that. She was in the hospital for a month and and she was in an induced coma using propofol and when my gosh when she came out of all that I asked her she dreamed about seeing thriller and bad and all that. I was mean. But but no she ordeal, wow. Well, and that’s what eventually caused us to move down here to Southern California to be closer to relatives. But I really appreciated what the doctors did for her. And we’re, we’re very grateful and fully understand a lot of what goes on with internal medicine and she has a good doctor now that we work with, well, who I both work with, and so on. You’re very pleased with that. But you say you’re in charge of Internal Medicine. And how long did that last at your first station,
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 30:39
first duty station, we arrived in 89. We were there till 92 till summer of 92. So arrived in January 89. I graduated off cycle. And Canton, arrived in, left in summer of 92 went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. But while I was at Fort Sill was first time I deployed to Operation Desert Shield Desert Storm, my first deployment and it was found out just days, like the week before, that my wife was expecting our fourth child or son Jonathan got home in time, for 11 days before his birth. Thank you, Lord. But that was my first deployment. And that was harrowing in that we were the first major medical group in theater, 47 filled hospital. And we knew that Saddam had chemical weapons, and that is Scud missiles could reach where we were at in Bahrain. So it was it was some harrowing times with that, getting our hospital set up. And knowing that we were well within range of Scud missiles, the alarms that go off and we’d be throwing on our protective gear we call our MOPP gear, our masks and our other other protective gear and these outrageous high temperatures. You know, within a couple of minutes, you were just drenched with sweat pouring off of you. In those those heat in that heat until you’d hear their alarms go off again and all clear. Thankfully, we never were bombed with the Scud. But we were well within the range. And we knew we had used chemical weapons, and we knew they certainly were in this arsenal. So we that was my first deployment. And then Walter Reed where I did a fellowship two years there in Washington, DC, and then we are off to Brooke Army Medical Center. And that was San Antonio, one of my favorite cities, that Fort Sam Houston. And we we were there for four years. And on the heels of that, I was deployed to Haiti for seven months, the last months that we live there, so I’ve gone I’m just redeploying returning home. And we’re in the process of moving. Now we’re moving to Fort Hood, Texas. There we spent, actually eight years at Fort Bragg. And there I was, again, chief of the Department of Medicine at Fort Hood, had amazing staff, great people that I worked with wonderful patients everywhere I went this wonderful patients to take care of. And then I was deployed during that time to Operation Iraqi Freedom was, Oh, if one Operation Iraqi Freedom one 2003 2004, stationed up in Missoula, treating caring primarily for the 100 and first Airborne Division aerosols. Major General David Petraeus was a division commander at that time, I got to work closely. My last few months, I was the officer in charge of the hospital, 21st combat support hospital and got to work closely interact with John Petraeus and his staff. Amazing man, amazing staff. incredible experience. Then from there after fort Fort Hood, we went back to Fort Sill, which was an interesting experience because then I was the deputy commander of Clinical Services, the Chief Medical Officer of the hospital. So first time I was there, I was a newly minted captain, new to the army, you know, expect you to know much about the army. Now I go to back to Fort Sill, I’m in the command suite on the Chief Medical Officer of the hospital now as a colonel, they expect you to know air everything. So it was it was interesting. Now, one of the first few days I was there, they give me a tour around to various places and the record group and we’re talking and the the records lady, one of the ladies talking to us, telling us about different things and that she She says, You remind me of you remind me of Dr. Longer God, Dr. Monder. God, she had been there the first time I had been there, because we’d have to go down and review our charts and sign our charts on a regular basis. It was, it was amazing. But just some great people that I got to work with over the years, and that our last duty station was in Augusta, Georgia, at the Eisenhower Army Medical Center, where I was again, Chief of Department of Medicine, worked with great people helped train some amazing residents and medical students, PA students.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 35:39
Just some great experiences. And while I was at Eisenhower Army Medical Center, I deployed for the last time to Iraq for another year 2010 to 2011.
Michael Hingson 35:50
How did all of the deployments and I guess you’re 26 years in the military in general, but especially your deployments? How did all of that affect you in your life in your family,
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 36:02
it gives you a much greater appreciation. Well, a few ways. Certainly a much bigger appreciation for your your family and your time with your family, I lost over three and a half years, 37 months out of the life of my family. And you don’t get that time back. No, you don’t get that back. So all major these major events that go on your life, seeing things with your children happening. There are no do overs with that that’s time last. So you get a better appreciation for that, you also get a better appreciation for the freedoms, the opportunities we have in this nation, when you go to some of those countries realize, you see what poverty can be like, you see how certain citizens are treated, you see women who are treated like cattle, in some cases like property, that the lack of rights, you see these people who want to be able to vote, that it’s not just a rigged election, but they actually have a say, in their country’s democratic process. The appreciation, and one of the things that was so poignant to Michael was the fact that these so many people, every place I’ve been whether that’s on a mission trip to Guatemala, whether that’s in Iraq, whether that was in Bahrain and other places that have been there, how many people would come and say My dream is to go to the US and become a US citizen, I heard that over and over and over again. And when I would get back home, I would feel like kissing the ground. Because I realized, by virtue of being born American, the privileges, the opportunities that I have, are so different than so many people around the world. So gave me appreciation for that. But being deployed, you get to see Army Medicine, practiced in the in the field, because Army Medicine is world class medicine, but you get to see it in the field practice again, in a world class way. It’s, it’s really mind boggling. Some of the things that we do in a field setting in a combat zone, taking care of soldiers, taking care of other service members, the things that we do, literally world class, not just back in brick and mortar facilities. But they’re in the field. Unbelievable. And again, working with great colleagues, amazing staff that I had there, the 21st cache and other places that I’ve worked. So that appreciation and that idea that you’re working for a cause so much greater than yourself, that brotherhood that you have. Now, when you’ve deployed with people and you’ve been in combat zone with people, let me tell you, you build some strong bonds.
Michael Hingson 39:15
And it’s all about really putting into practice what most of us really can only think about is theory because unless we’ve been subjected to it and need medical help, or have been involved in the situations like you, it’s it’s not the same. We’re not connected to it. And it’s so important, it seems to me to help people understand that connection and the values that you’re exactly what you’re talking about.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 39:46
Yes, yes. You were asking about the impact on my family. Well think about that. My first time employee My wife has three young children. Adam was six Chris was four. Anjali It was too, and she’s expecting our fourth. We’re deploying to this war zone that’s very uncertain knowing he’s got Scud missiles, he’s got chemical weapon arsenal, that he’s used this. And you’re going into this very uncertain war zone. Not knowing when you’re coming back home, or even if you’re coming back home, all of this uncertainty. The night they announced that, okay, the war had started, that that officially had kicked, kicked off there, that hostilities it started, it was announced on TV. And the kids were at a swimming lesson at the pool, I believe. And somebody came running through some young soldier or something,
Michael Hingson 40:59
the war started, the
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 41:00
war has started. And the children all started bawling. And so Sherry’s trying to gather them up and she’s thinking, What are you doing, you know, trying to gather up the the kids and get them home. But she didn’t allow them to listen to any reports do anything. Thankfully, we didn’t have a TV at that time by choice. We didn’t have a TV for many years. But she didn’t allow him to listen to any reports, because she didn’t want them to hear these things. But you can think about the uncertainty, you think about missing the events, you think about a spouse having to manage everything at home, taking care of the family, taking care of all the other things there that are involved in managing a household. That’s what’s left with that, that spouse and then them carrying on without you. So adjusting without you. And then as those children are a different ages, again, all of that, your spouse taking care of that. And your family, adjusting without you. Now if people don’t realize they see these idyllic, idyllic reunions, oh, it’s great look at they’re coming home, and they’re hugging and kissing and crying and looking at how wonderful that is. Well, yes, it is wonderful. It’s magnificent. You can’t believe the elation and the relief. But there’s a short little honeymoon phase, if you will. But then the real work begins reintegrating into your family, finding that new normal, how do I fit back into this, they’ve done with it. They’ve been without me for several months, or even up to a year. My kids have changed. I’ve changed Sherry’s changed, our family has changed. So how now do we find that normal? And I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand that there is that work that needs to be done. And there’s a lot of work that needs to be done after it. service members returned home from a deployment, that it’s not easy. And it takes its toll. And I don’t think that people realize the sacrifice when service members been gone. for months and months at a time years at a time, the sacrifice of that service member the sacrifice of their fam, with every promotion, every award that I received, I used to tell people, my wife, and my kids deserve this a lot more than I do.
Michael Hingson 43:50
And another thing that comes to mind in thinking about this back in the time of Desert Storm, and so on and maybe up into Iraqi Freedom, I would think actually is how were you able to communicate with home.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 44:07
Oh, with your family. And in Desert Storm is primarily snail mail. We did have the occasional call that we can make. Now, as the theater matured and they moved us out of living in tents. We got to move into hardened structure in there. I could make a regular phone call when we got to if there we could, I could send e mail and that became snail mail. And e mail were the primary ways that we connected. The last time I was in Iraq 2010 and 2011. Again, it was email but I could also I had a car that I could charge minutes to that I can Make through an international calling system that I can also place telephone calls. But the primary way became again, snail mail and email to communicate with my family. Today, is
Michael Hingson 45:13
there additional kinds of ways of communicating like zoom or Skype? Yeah.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 45:18
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Now you’re right. They can do face to face zoom. FaceTime there they have, they have their cell phone. So if they’re not restricted from using their cell phones, and can even get the international plan and call, we weren’t able to do those kinds of things. Yeah. There. Now we did have one thing when I was in Haiti, where it could go into a room. And you could do a as via satellite, it was on a monitor that I could speak to, and they were in this special room there that it was big monitor. But it was a very limited time. And that when that time ended, boom, the screen would just freeze. And the first time it ended like that the kids action starts, started crying because I’m in mid sentence saying something, and I freeze on the screen. And the kids didn’t understand what was going on. Yeah. And they was so abrupt that Sherry told me later, can start crying when that happened,
Michael Hingson 46:25
cuz they didn’t know they didn’t know whether suddenly a bomb dropped or what?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 46:29
Right, right. Yes. It’s shocking to them.
Michael Hingson 46:33
Well, all of this obviously takes a toll on anyone who’s subjected to it or who gets to do it. And I guess the other side of it is it’s an honorable and a wonderful thing to be able to go off and serve people and, and help make the world a better place. But it eventually led to a depression for you, right?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 46:55
Yes, yes. I ended up with major depression. And it culminated on April 17 2014, where I was curled up in a fetal position under the desk in my office. They’re laying on that musty carpet. I had gone to work as I normally did, like, get to my office that day early, as was my custom. Nobody else on the whole floor. I locked my office turned on the lights, step inside. And everything just came crashing down on me. I was beat up, beaten down and broken. Should behind me lock the door, turned off the lights, close the blinds. And I crawled under that desk. And then for four hours. I’m asking myself skip, what are you doing? Skip? Why are you here? What happened? You’re a tough guy. You’re a colonel. You’ve been in combat zones for over 18 months. Your National Wrestling Champion, you’re a tough guy. What happened? Then very slowly, looking at that, and scenes and memories colliding, looking at things, promise, difficulties, and I began to put the pieces together. And finally began to understand the symptoms I was having the past nine months, insomnia, impaired cognition is progressively moving these negative thoughts it just pounded the day and night. You’re a fake. You don’t deserve to be a colonel, you let your family down. You left the army down, who’s gonna want a higher loss of confidence in decision, loss of passion and things that I normally have no interest in resting. Joy, no joy in my life. It’s like walking through life in black and white. My body old injuries. Overuse injuries, the osteoarthritis body just a make it even worse. My libido my sex drive was in the toilet. Now you talk about kicking the guy when he’s down. And I finally began was able to put those pieces together after four hours. Now I was finally able to understand, said scale. You’re depressed? Go get help. And I crawled out from under that desk with a flicker of hope. And later that afternoon, I’ve seen a clinical psychologist to confirm the diagnosis of major depression.
Michael Hingson 49:25
How come it took so long for you to get to that point? Do you think
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 49:30
it was my tough guy mentality? This idea that you just keep pushing through that tough guy identity is like a double edged sword. That tough guys just keep pushing through. There was a lot of things colonel, combat that physician wrestler. So I took on this tough guy persona. And we even have a term for it in wrestling. We call it gutting it out. No matter how hard your lungs and what your lungs burn how much your muscles say, no matter how hard this is, you’re just going to keep pushing and pushing. So that was my, that was my modus operandi. That’s what I how I operated in my life. You just keep pushing hard and hard and pushing through these difficulties. With it, I couldn’t see step back far enough to see what was going on. I knew it felt horrible. I couldn’t sleep. I felt badly. I didn’t want to be around people. I was withdrawn. But I couldn’t step back even as a physician, and put these together to say, Oh, I’m depressed. It’s just Oh, keep pushing. And the harder I push, the worse I got. So it was that blindness from that tough guy identity. That there probably some denial going on perhaps. But even as I look back retrospectively, that tough guy mentality just didn’t help me. Allow me to see that until it got so crucial where I was just totally depleted. Ended up under that desk.
Michael Hingson 51:11
So how would you define being a tough guy today, as opposed to what you what you thought back then?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 51:20
Yes, yes. Well, there are two sides to a tough guy, Michael, I see a tough guy. Certainly one aspect of the tough guy as that provider protector, that decisive individual, that decisive man that can do things that need to be done now, and can make those tough decisions, no matter what. That’s one aspect of so yeah, but that other aspect to hit balances is. So we think of that one tough guy, you might say that’s your impart your rugged, individualistic guy that you see that module, tough guy, that the screen portrays at least aspects of that. But then you see this other aspect of that tough guy, this is the individual that has, can be in touch with his emotions, can understand and able to dig there into that and say, Oh, I’m feeling sad. You know, what, somebody what you just said, really hurt. That’s, I’m disappointed with that. I’m able to shed tears open, I’m able to show that tenderness that love very openly, but to balance it between the two sides appropriately. That’s what I see as a true tough guy. It’s not just the one or the other. It’s that blend of both that we need in our lives to make us a tough guy. And if you have only one or the other, you’re you’re not a tough guy. You only have the tenderness and the warmth, and the gentleness and the ability to share your emotions. Well guess what? You’re going to be a tough time you’re going to run over people can take advantage of they’re not going to be much of a protector for those you need to protect. But if you only have that other side of you. You’re very limited. You’re not going to be able to function in the full array of what we’re meant to function in as men or women. Nor women. Absolutely. It’s not just restricted to one sex. Absolutely. You’re right, Michael.
Michael Hingson 53:51
So you wrote a book wrestling? Depression is not for tough guys. Right? Not for wimps. Yeah, not for wimps. I’m sorry. Wrestling. Depression is pretty tough guys. Wrestling depression is not for wimps. Tell us about that and how it affected you and your family writing that?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 54:11
Well, that book, the genesis of that book came about about six weeks into my recovery, but still struggling. And throughout the time that I was sinking down deeper and deeper into the depression and the first several weeks in my recovery. My prayers had been lowered lower, please, please deliver me from this darkness. But six weeks into my recovery. My youngest brother Chris calls me he had been at a Bible study with Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham. In Franklin talked about the suffering of Christ. And the gist of what was if Christ suffered so brutally upon that cross why as Western Christians do we think we should be immune from suffering. And over the next two days, the birth that kept coming to my mind was from Philippians. To 13 Paul writes, oh, that I know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. I knew that verse I knew well, I’d prayed that verse hundreds of times in my walk with Christ, but in the midst of my suffering, I wanted deliverance. But over two days, my prayer shifted from Lord, please, please deliver me, the Lord. What would you have me learn? And how might I use it to serve others. And at that point, I knew I was going to have to share my story. I didn’t know how, when but I knew I must share my story. So I began to note what lessons I had learned and what lessons I was learning with the intent of sharing those first time I got to do that was at a officer Professional Development Day, there at the hospital at Eisenhower Medical Center, our session, the morning, our session, the afternoon, and the hospital auditorium. And that became the genesis for my book, I want a writing contest in 2015, your have to retire from the army. And with that came a contract to have my book published. And then it was the process of going through the whole process of writing the book, editing the book, selecting the book, cover, all the things go into book, writing, that book was life transformed. It was transformational to me. And so I learned so many things about myself writing this book.
Michael Hingson 56:41
Did you have fun writing it,
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 56:43
I had fun at times. Other times, it was a grind, almost chickened out at the point where we had everything finished. It was ready to go to the publishers and I was I was I was on the cliffs, so to speak. i The book midwife as we called her, the lady is working with Carrie to read love the love with the lady with the company, their Confucian publishing is now called used to be transformational books. I called her and I said, Carrie, I don’t know. I think I need to scrap this whole book. I think I need to start over. I can write a much better book. And she goes, No skip. This book is ready. We need to get it birth, we need to extend it to the publisher. And I’m thinking oh, no, no, no, I, I just can in Nice, I need to rewrite this whole thing. I can do a bunch better. This after working. You know, we’ve been working on this thing for two and a half years getting this thing ready. And I prayed about I’m talking about and then later I called her back in a day and a half and say, okay, Sherry talked me off the cliff. We’re gonna send this book forward. But with that, learn things about yourself, going through that access some memories that I hadn’t thought about, and some things, some promise that occurred that affected me in profound ways that I didn’t realize how much of an impact that had on my life, and for how long that have an impact on my life. Case in point. I lost the state wrestling championship as a senior in high school by two seconds of writing time. Meaning my opponent, Matt Martinez, from greedy West High School knew Matt. There. He beat me by controlling me when he’s on the top position for two seconds. He had two seconds more writing time controlling me on that map that I escaped from him three seconds earlier, you wouldn’t have any writing time. And we had gotten into overtime. And I believe I would have beat Matt in overtime because nobody, nobody could match my conditioning. But it didn’t get to them. So I really that that match. That was probably 10s of 1000s. But what it did is it it really devastated my confidence. And that carried on into my first couple years of college, the College wrestling. Just a lot of things about me. And what I didn’t realize it took three and a half years. No, actually five, five years 73 It was 78 and spring of 78 when I was finally healing from that, regaining my mojo. And I didn’t realize that until I was writing this book, that profound impact that loss had and the RIP holes, the effects that went on for those successive years there, the profundity of that. And there were other things that I came to light. So there’d be times I’d be laughing. There’d be times I’d be crying. There’d be times I’d be like, Whoa, wow. So it was an amazing experience.
Michael Hingson 1:00:23
So what are some tips that you would give to anyone dealing with depression today?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 1:00:29
Yep. Thank you for asking that. Michael, first and foremost, men, or anybody if you’re struggling, don’t struggle. One more day in silence, please, please, please go get help to remember, you’re never, never, never alone. Three, keep your head up. And wrestling, we talk about this, keep your head up, instill this in our young wrestlers. Why because if they’re on their feet, and they drop their head, and get taken down to the mat, if they’re down on the mat, the opponent’s on top of them and drop their head, they can turn over and pin. But that’s also figurative, and emotional, keep your head up. Keep your head up. And I needed people speaking into my life, like my wife, my family, my friends, my therapist, others speaking into my life, it’s a skip, keep your head up. Psalm three, three says the Lord is our glory, and the lifter of our heads. So I tell people, you’re never ever, ever alone. third, or fourth, I would say attend to the basics, sleep, healthy nutrition. And some regular activity. Those basics are the basics for good reason. And I call them the big three. And probably the most important of all of those, if you’re having dysregulation of your sleep is get your sleep back under control. The last few that I’m sorry, go ahead. And then the last few that I would say is make sure you’ve got a battle buddy. Make sure you have somebody that you can turn to somebody that you can confide in somebody that, you know, would just listen and walk this journey with you and a prescription. And there’s many other things that I talked about in my book, but a prescription that I have left with 1000s and 1000s of patients. I’ve written this on prescription pads. And I’ve shared this with patients and I say this medication has no bad side effects. This medication has no drug to drug interactions, and you cannot overdose on this medication. So I want you to take this medication liberally each and every day. Proverbs 1722 says A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine. broken spirit. Drive up the boats. When I was depressed, I had a broken spirit. So lack is good nets. So I say each and every day, laugh and laugh hard to find something that you can laugh about. It’s goodness.
Michael Hingson 1:03:40
Oh, whenever I want to laugh, all I have to say is I wanted to be a doctor but I didn’t have any patients. See?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 1:03:55
Oh, that’s great.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 1:03:59
Well, I tell people, in retrospect, I say, gee, if I had only been my own doctor, I would have diagnosed myself sooner. See, well wait, I am a doctor.
Michael Hingson 1:04:15
Or you know what the doctor said Is he sewed himself up Suit yourself. Yeah. I got that from an old inner sanctum radio show. But anyway. Last thing, because we’ve been going a while and just to at least mention it. You have been a TD X speaker.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 1:04:33
Yes, sir. I was a TEDx speaker. Indeed.
Michael Hingson 1:04:36
I got it that went well. Oh,
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 1:04:39
it was amazing. Was a TEDx speaker in Vancouver, in December of 2021. My talk is entitled tough guys are an endangered species. And standing up there on the TEDx phase and stage was a common addition of almost nine months of preparation, our mentor, Roger killin tremendous in helping prepare, myself and some colleagues for this, with the help of his sidekick, Dorthea Hendrik, just lovely, lovely people. But to stand on that stage, and deliver my talk, which is about 12 and a half minutes, started off in about six and a half 17 minutes, get cutting down, cutting it down, cutting it down, but stand there and deliver this message directed to tough guys talking about emotions, and the inability that men often have an accessing our emotions because of the way we’ve been conditioned, the way we’ve been raised the expectations placed on us. In fact, there’s a medical term that was coined, that’s masculine, Alexei timea, which means he leaves without words, and how that then sets men up, that I don’t, I’m okay, I don’t need help. I don’t need to share my feelings and we lose contact with our feelings. Men don’t seek medical care as often as women in general, much less when they’re struggling with mental health issues, that denial, that tough guy, and now they seek it in maladaptive behaviors. I talked about that. But the ultimate behavior becoming suicide,
Michael Hingson 1:06:39
which is why you have given us a new and much better definition of tough guy. Yes, sir. In the end, it is very clear that wrestling depression is not for wimps. So I get it right that time. There you go. Well, I want to thank you for being here with us on unstoppable mindset. Clearly, you have an unstoppable mindset. And I hope people get inspired by it. And inspired by all the things you’ve had to say if they’d like to reach out to you. How might they do that?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 1:07:14
The easiest way for them to reach out Michael is go to my website. w w w dot transform, tough guys.com W, W W dot transform Tough guys.com. And there, you could send me a message.
Michael Hingson 1:07:35
Send you a message looking at your book. Are you looking at writing any more books?
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 1:07:39
Yes, sir. I am looking to write another book. And still in the making. But I think the next book, maybe wrestling movies is not for wimps.
Michael Hingson 1:07:53
There you go. Well, we want to hear about that when it comes out. And so you have to come back and we can talk more about it.
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 1:07:59
Yes, sir. Well, thank
Michael Hingson 1:08:01
you again, skip for being with us on unstoppable mindset. I appreciate it. I appreciate you. And it’s easy to say you inspire me and and all that. But I seriously mean it. I think you’ve offered a lot of good knowledge and good sound advice that people should listen to. And I hope that all of you out there, appreciate this as well. And that you will reach out to www dot transform, tough guys.com and reach out to skip. Also, of course, we’d love to hear from you feel free to email me at Michaelhi at accessibe.com or go to www dot Michaelhingson.com/podcast or wherever you’re listening to us. Please give us a five star rating. We appreciate it. We want to hear what you think about the podcast. If you’ve got suggestions of people who should be on and skip Same to you if you know of anyone else that we ought to have on the podcast would appreciate your, your help in finding more people and more insights that we all can appreciate. So again, thank you for you for being on the podcast with us
Donald G. “Skip” Mondragon 1:09:08
there. My pleasure, Mike. Thank you.
Michael Hingson 1:09:10
Pleasure is mine.
Michael Hingson 1:09:16
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com. accessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.