By Somer Breeze-Hanson, Northwest GuardianJuly 28, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., July 28, 2011 -- Maj. Mike Mai has performed on many stages.
His platform is a seven-foot diameter ring. His instrument is a 16-pound hammer attached to a wire. His art is the ability to heave the hammer nearly 250 feet. And his audience has exceeded 50,000 spectators.
Mai, 33, ranks nationally near the top in the hammer throw, and after his second-place finish at the U.S. Track and Field National Championships in Eugene, Ore., last month, he’ll compete in his second World Championships in August.
“Dealing with pressure is a not a problem,” Mai said. “It’s (a matter of) ‘is the technique strong enough to hold up under that stress?’”
Thanks to the World Class Athlete Program, the former commander of the 9th Financial Management Company on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, or JBLM, has been allowed the time and focus needed to excel at his craft.
Mai moved to San Jose, Calif., three months ago to begin his third tour in the WCAP and work with coach Dave Swan. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound athlete is working out seven days a week -- throwing five to six of those days -- rehabbing nagging injuries and lifting weights. When Mai was a commander at JBLM he logged 12-hour days with both his Army duties and training.
He prides himself in being a Soldier first and continues to help out with an Army Reserve unit to maintain his military skills. He also linked up with a local recruiting company in the South Bay area. But the WCAP allows Mai to invest the majority of his time and focus into his sport.
“I love competing. I love throwing and all the stuff that comes with it,” he said. “I have to take advantage of this when I can.”
Thanks to the intense training, Mai is performing better than he has in his 11-year career. His second place throw of 74.69 meters, was a season best and his highest finish at the national event. But Mai’s expectations for himself are even greater after he threw an all-time personal best of 77 meters during a recent warm-up throw in Eugene.
“I know there is a lot more to come this year when I can put it all together in the ring,” Mai said.
Mai was supposed to be in Brazil at the end of July to compete in the World Military Games, but because of the event’s timing, many throwers opted out of the competition and the event was canceled. The two weeks he would have been gone are now two weeks he will use to prepare for the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, Aug. 27 through Sept. 4.
Before he tries to improve on his 2009 World performance, Mai has an important date. He will marry Deirdre Mullen, a high jumper, on July 30. The couple has been dating since December of 2009 and has never lived in the same location. Mai lives on the West Coast and Mullen lives on the East Coast.
“We’ve been on opposite coasts for a while so it will be nice to finally be together,” Mullen said. “He is very supportive, and when we have had the opportunity to train together it has been very helpful for both of our athletic careers.”
After the wedding Mullen, who placed fourth in her event at nationals, will move to California and accompany Mai to the World Championships.
“Over the last couple of years, as I’m getting ready to settle down, my fiancée is a big motivation for me,” Mai said. “She’s one of the biggest reasons for my recent success.”
Mai finished 21st in the 2009 World Championships. His goal this year is to finish in the top-12 and compete on the final day. Because Mai works with his coach full time now, he has the repetitions -- and stamina -- he didn’t have in 2009.
Shortly after the championships Mai will compete in the Pan-Am games in Guadalajara in October. When the Pan-Am Games conclude the newlyweds will honeymoon in Australia in November.
When Mai returns to California he will dedicate the next seven months preparing for a chance to perform on the athlete’s biggest stage, the U.S. Olympics. Mai finished fifth in the 2008 trials.
The 2012 trials are June 22, 2012, in Eugene.
“I’m really lucky that there’s an opportunity that the Army still funds a program like the World Class Athlete Program to allow outstanding athletes to represent the U.S. Army in the Olympics,” Mai said.