By Eric Dehm
Shane Kruchten has seen a lot in his 33 years.
He joined the Marine Corps at 17, saw combat in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, was wounded in an ambush and watched his friends die. He left the Marine Corps, ballooned to over 260 pounds, gorged on cocaine and alcohol, spiraled out of control and nearly took his own life.
Kruchten’s story could have ended there, but it was just the beginning.
“Drugs and alcohol led me down a really dark path,” Kruchten tells ConnectingVets.com. “Fortunately, I had good veterans who didn’t give up on me. It wasn’t really the VA, it was my brothers, my brothers-in-arms who basically put their foot down and said, ‘hey man, enough’s enough and you’re not gonna be a dumbass.’ And it really saved my life.”
Since his suicide attempt, it’s amazing what Kruchten has accomplished — perhaps most notably becoming a professional mixed martial artist with a 12-3 record fighting as a Featherweight.
Yes, the formerly chubby former Marine dropped some serious weight and is now a slim, rangy 145 pounds. He trains with the famed 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu at their San Diego facility and his most recent fight was under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, where he defeated fellow Marine Corps vet Jeremy Mahon at World Series Of Fighting 34.
He’s also become involved in raising funds for veteran organizations and charities, including the Wounded Warrior Project. He also offers free private Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lessons to veterans.
“I always give back,” Kruchten says. “I donate money from my fight purses, I donate my money to veterans, I tell my story to help veterans and I don’t expect anything in return.”
It’s been a long road for Kruchten. A road that recently led to a new Harley-Davidson.
As part of H-D’s “Mission: Thank You” program, Kruchten was the first vet to be awarded a “Milwaukee Eight” motorcycle.
It would appear that someone noticed Kruchten’s consistent and continuing efforts to give back to the vet community. And whomever that someone was… decided to anonymously nominate him for the award.
“Adam Sandoval says ‘Shane Kruchten will you come up here?’ And I thought I was going to get the utmost honor of giving something to a veteran, or maybe get a T-shirt. But then Adam goes, ‘thank you for my freedom, here are the keys to your brand new 2017 Milwaukee 8.’ I don’t know if you’ve seen the video, but I almost cried.”
“Shane had no clue the bike was coming,” Sandoval says in a video of the presentation of Kruchten’s Harley. “It was kinda funny, when I was giving him the keys, he turned away like he just didn’t wanna believe it was real, or couldn’t believe it was real.”
But it was real, as real as the pain of losing his brothers-in-arms; as real as the joy of victory within a cage. Everything in Kruchten’s life, good or bad, has been definitively real.
And now? Well, things are looking good as he rides off on his brand new, free, and most importantly, well-deserved Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
If you are, or know of a deserving veteran or active duty military member in good standing, you can nominate them here.