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Behind the Mask: Brian Ugalde

Updated: Nov 25, 2019

Q: What drew you to volunteer for OEW?

A: I attended a few races, saw the team athletes alongside honorees who were missing limbs of all degrees. Yet they were tackling the same challenges just like the rest of the team or race competitors, just in an adaptive way that may or may not need additional assistance. Beyond the military uniforms, I "got" why the masks- the anonymity, the symbolizing and personifying of the wounds carried daily from our honorees and all wounded heroes, and the draw to redirect focus and attention to the honorees.

Q: Do you have a military or LEO connection? If so, what is it?

A: I have immediate and extended family who served in our military, and same with some of my best friends and "brothers". Beyond that, the military connections I've gained have been the result of my involvement with OEW and taking on various community outreach and fundraising events, as well as being an OEW Adaptive Athlete Liaison for the better part of my time as a team member since January 2014.

Q: What is your most unforgettable OEW-related memory?

A: I honestly don't have just one, I have to name a few that have really meant the most to me. Each are among those that have most shaped my work for OEW and the evolution of roles I've taken on since the early days of racing while wearing the branded shirt.

  • Wintergreen Spartan Super, August 2013 - There is a video on YouTube of the monkey bars and two of our "Sacrifice" adaptive Athlete team members at the time making their way across. I took that video as the event's GoPro man; it was the first OEW event I did and was also assigned as OCA leadership for that race. (Check out the video here, I'll let the rest speak for itself!)

  • Ft Bragg Spartan Sprint, September 2015 - Specifically the Rope Climb near the end of the 5 mile race. I spent the entire race with Eric Hunter, whom I met on May 31, 2013, his first "Alive Day" anniversary. An IED took his right leg below the knee and the majority of 62 surgeries and 3.5 years at Walter Reed were spent salvaging his left leg, among other injuries. It took 2 years for him to feel good enough to join us on a race (starting with handcycling the Marine Corps Historic Half in May 2015). Eric and I talked a lot about climbing that rope together one day, symbolizing the journey I had joined him on, and him supporting me behind the scenes with my OEW work. His support includes bringing me into Walter Reed to meet other warriors/staff/nonprofits, taking me to work out with him, and even sitting in on the occasional appointment (most I sat outside for of course!). Eric flying up that rope, arms only (and in 7 seconds, almost half my time and only a leg and a half he can barely use as is!), was what he and I worked towards, and that race as a whole set the stage for him taking on other challenges like acting (look up "In The Middle Of The River" and "Agnostic" when you get a chance!). Since our meet, Eric became my brother. He is also my best friend, hero, and my biggest "why" for OEW and in supporting our wounded heroes.

  • Virginia Military Institute 2016+3 Rat Unity 5k, December 2015 - This was the first (and last) Masked Athlete event I had the honor of facilitating. The VMI "Rat Mass" is the incoming freshman class. They are tasked with organizing an effort to show their seniors they can come together, achieve a major goal, and show they have what it takes to make it through 4 years as a VMI Cadet- a status they earn upon completion of their Rat Breakout. The 2016+3 Rats (Class of 2019) decided on a 5k around the Parade Deck, while fundraising for OEW. I got to collaborate with the Rat in charge, Emory Lieber, and their class effort brought in almost $15,000 to OEW (almost $16k through the ended the year!) We ran alongside the 500-ish Rats with Emory and our honoree Rick Kolberg leading the way, ending in storming the barracks and another group 22 push-ups with each count and shout echoing through the living headquarters and booming outward into the city of Lexington. That day Emory became one of my "brothers" and I would revisit VMI 2 years later for a follow-up fundraiser he led, as well as attend his graduation this past May. All of that is part of my ongoing gratitude for his efforts and the support he and his family have given me during my OEW work.

  • Virginia Military Institute 2019+3 Rat Unity Field Games, January 2019 - The former Rats from the VMI 2016+3 5k are now the senior "Dykes" for the current 2019+3 Rat Mass. This time I had the honor of working with Michael Hoffmann and collaborating with their OEW fundraising event. It was a round robin field day Competition between all the Rat Companies, with several of us from OEW (several OCAs and 4 honorees) being assigned to a company for the duration. In the 3 weeks leading up to the events, I was able to contribute some major resources for Mike and his class to support their already massive fundraising effort. Learning from the previous Rat event, I now knew ways to help these Rats make their event more alive than they ever thought possible. The final payoff? $15,322 to OEW, the finest event I have ever been a part of for OEW, and I gained another "brother" with Mike. I have made several visits back to VMI to catch up with Mike and to meet more of my Rats from the VMI Class of 2022. In fact... by the time this Masked Monday entry is up, I will also be around VMI again! So... BROTHER RATS, ARE YOU READY? #RahVirginiaMil

Q: In what ways do you enjoy contributing to the mission on a daily basis?

A: FUNDRAISING... even though it is often stressful, it is always worth it. Our honorees notice and greatly appreciate and respect those who are active fundraisers. Over the years, this has taken some interesting turns for me. This goes beyond restaurant fundraisers... I can now add bowling, skydiving, a spicy "One Chip Challenge" and unicycling to my fundraising repertoire! My "Learning to Unicycle" series of videos documented my progress from scratch, while paralleling the struggles endured and overcome by our honorees, and actually managed to raise a few bucks through it! In fact when springtime comes around, there is also the annual "Monument Avenue 10k 3-legged Race" in Richmond for which Tyler Zufall and I do a fundraising campaign in the months prior. Why? Like the unicycling, to parallel and illustrate the physical and mental struggles our wounded heroes must endure and overcome.

Q: What do you find most rewarding about being involved in OEW?

A: I don't so much think about the reward. Something like involvement with OEW or any veterans charity is more about the "charity"... I believe it is our "duty" to serve and sacrifice back for those who have sacrificed for us.

Q: Motto or principle you live by.

A: Jesus. 'Nuff said :)

Q: What piece of advice would you give someone who is interested in becoming a volunteer?

A: Whether what you have to give is small or big, short term or long term, for the frontlines or behind the curtains... it is appreciated by OEW more than you will ever know. Our honorees also notice as well. When you give of your time, to some immeasurable degree you are helping our wounded heroes just by the act of caring. Be ready to be a team player, and expect anything. When your commitment and support is unquestioned and consistent, you will have a place within OEW regardless of being a team athlete or a Community Ambassador. You also don't have to technically register as an OCA to support OEW... but our online community to support your efforts will be there should you sign up. The truth is, if you are devising a way to support OEW, then we will figure out how to support you back so you, we, and most importantly, our honorees get the most out of your support! And for those already knee deep or more in OEW involvement, it's okay to take a break, slow down when you need, regain yourself and refill your cup. That was something I finally learned throughout 2015 spending half of most of my weeks up in Bethesda with Eric Hunter and family.

Q: What would you like people to know about OEW?

A: Your support absolutely matters! I've seen the work of OEW change and save lives... not just for our honorees and even some of our other team members and Community Ambassadors. The work we do to help honor, empower, and motivate our wounded military and LEOs is only because THEIR sacrifices matter.

Q: What is your daily contribution to OEW operations?

A: Fundraising, Outreach, online visibility/reach (often working alongside our Comms team for items), working more with our Development section and maintaining some of our partnerships. Some of my current ongoing ones include Bishop's Events, Conquest Graphics, and Battle Bars. Fundraising will always be ongoing, whether via general fundraising through our Everyday Hero page, or a Facebook birthday fundraiser, or collaborating with local businesses for a workout or restaurant event.

Q: Do you physically participate in OEW events and, if so, how do you stay in shape for them?

A: Currently not an active participant in OEW events. But I've been back in the gym for the past year, also trying to run when the heat won't make me wimp out, and unicycling has been a surprising factor in trying to get back in shape for whatever next OEW event I get to do. Also, never underestimate the power of what you eat and don't eat.

Q: If OEW had unlimited funds, what would you like to see added to or happen within the organization?

A: Something that "unlimited funds" won't solve- and that is for more involvement, the time and energy commitment. Because without the manpower and heart; funds and programs are just other material things that will make us ultimately no different than the next nonprofit.

Q: Favorite book or podcast.

A: The Bible! And also "How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters."

Check out our OEW Spotify channel! Each team member will share their own playlist of music that gets them pumped for action or helps them chill during their workday. Follow our channel and receive updates whenever new playlists are posted! Don't have Spotify? Click here to download now and enjoy FREE music on your device/desktop.

About Volunteering: Check out our information page here and learn how to become an OEW Community Ambassador (OCA). You can support our honorees and organization from your local community. We want YOU to become a part of our family!

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