Shane Kruchten will be hitting the pinnacle of his MMA career when he steps into the Decagon to face Mike Corey at WSOF 9 tonight (results here), at The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. You will see a huge tattoo on his back. Over his shoulder blades it reads, "Only the good." Across his lower back it says, "Die Young." In between are the names of his fellow brethren in the Third Battalion, Second Marines who have died.
Kruchten was almost one of those names.
Things weren't always this good for the 29-year old fighter and his story of how he got to where he is now is a compelling one. The marksman has gone through being discharged from the Marine Corp, suffering from PTSD, battling drug addiction and alcohol abuse and in the darkest moment of those times, he attempted to take his own life. He hit rock bottom almost five years ago and since that day -- June 14, 2009 -- he has made the most of his second lease on life.
After serving nine and a half months in Iraq for the Marine Corp at the age of only 18, Kruchten was struggling with his situation, where he was and things he was seeing everyday in Iraq. He worked up the courage to ask for some help. Little did he know it would lead to the end of his time in the armed forces and set off a chain of events that would vastly alter his life.
"I reached out for help because they always tell you -- your seniors -- all the advanced Marines that have been in for years are always like, ‘if you have any problems, make sure tell somebody,'" Kruchten explained recently as a guest on MMAmania's Darce Side Radio.
"I wasn't sleeping. I was heavily drinking. 18 years old... I basically said I just said ‘hey can I get help?' They said ‘for what?' Initially I said ‘drinking,' and then I was like at the same time, ‘I'm pretty depressed.' The guy goes, "you're depressed?" As soon as I said the word ‘depressed' I will never forget that day. That same day I had about seven or eight meetings with these advanced Marines, all these psychologists and I was like ‘what is going on?'
"Next thing you know I'm getting letters telling I can't be around my fellow Marines, I can't handle weapons, I can't... I couldn't do anything. I had a bedtime. They made me be in my barracks room at 9pm. I wasn't allowed to leave my barracks room until 6am. There was actually had duty... The people on duty watch would have to come check on me and verify I was in my room. It was like I was a preschooler or I was in a psych ward, but I was in my own room. They'd make me wear camis, but I never had to go to formation. Basically they took the title that I earned and I was so proud of... They took it, stomped on it and spit it back in my face. It really hurt initially."
Still a teenager at the time, Kruchten thought he was going to have a career in the Marines, but suddenly he was honorably discharged and diagnosed with PTSD and according to the former Marine, he wasn't alone. He said he was among a large group of guys between 2004-2007 that were discharged with PTSD.
"They got me out as soon as possible," he said. "They were kicking us all out. We were like the Marine Corp's first big PTSD guys, that had PTSD issues, but they didn't know how to handle it so what better way to handle it then kick them out. In order to save the Marine Corp money I believe -- and there has been lawsuits since then -- they kicked us all out with personality disorders. So basically they were calling us bipolar and that's why they were kicking us all out.
"That really hurt and that was a blow to everything I stood for. I was die-hard. I lived, died, breathed everything Marine Corp. I was proud. And you are just going to say ‘see you later dude. There's the door.'"
Kruchten said he "was a lost soul" upon returning home, but never "questioned his service to the country." His initial meeting with a psychiatrist at the Long Beach Veterans Hospital went about "ten minutes" and he "left with a barrage of medication," he said.
During that time, Kruchten managed to become a Union carpenter and bounced around from Orange County, California to San Diego to Wisconsin, where he found MMA in 2007. All the while his drinking and pill popping were increasingly growing worse, he then added cocaine to the chemical arsenal. According to the former Marine, he compared his use of the drug to that of putting racing fuel in a Honda Civic.
"It made my PTSD worse," he explained. "I drank heavier and at the same time I got addicted. It just tumbled and tumbled until that downfall in 2009."
In 2009, Kruchten moved back to California to further his MMA career and be closer to his family, which he said, "were kept very much in the dark."
"I realized I was going to hurt my family if I kept on this path back there," he said. Kructen left Wisconsin behind along with a girlfriend he called an "enabler," but when he returned to California, his problems with addiction followed with him.
On June 14th, 2009 Kruchten spent $700 on cocaine and pills and holed himself up with the intent on calling it a day on his life. He recalled the events that led up to that decision.
"I had hung out with an old buddy the night before and we kind of reminisced about brothers being lost and people that we had served with," Kruchten began. "He went home, and he had a family, a beautiful family and that was something I yearned for forever was a family, kids and this guy had it. I looked at myself in the mirror and I was not happy with what I saw. I figured hey ‘fuck it.' There's no way to justify anything I'm doing on this earth. I'm taking up space. How could I go talk to somebody when I'm just this veteran that has some sob story. People are just going to laugh at me or they don't give a crap. I had that reaction from certain individuals prior so I bought everything and I started doing it. When I started doing it my initial thought wasn't to kill myself, but when I looked and saw how much money I had, I said ‘well here we go.' I was ready to run until the wheels fall off and I did. A couple of days later I was waking up to a cop kicking in my door. It was an eye opening experience."
Prior to this life altering evening, Kruchten met who would become one of his best friends, Norby Lara at a Surfing event. Lara, according to Kruchten insisted on having his number and staying in touch with a fellow former soldier. After waking up to the cops kicking in his door the morning after, the first time he looked at his phone he had a bunch of missed calls. They were all from Norby.
"I had to call him. I reached out and he's never let go of me since," he said. "Norby is a great man. He got me lined up with the right people after everything happened."
The police came barging in that day because he had bought drugs off an undercover cop and they assumed he was a dealer due to the large amount of money he had spent. He was alive, but now he was facing some serious legal issues.
"I dealt with a lot," he said. "Through the Wounded Warrior project, and through help with the Veteran affairs office, the VA, through individuals that stood and went to bat for me, I got a stayed sentence. I served my time in probation. Everything was thrown out. I have nothing on my record and I got a second lease on life."
"I just embraced the help and I embraced the care from everybody around me. I reached out and said ‘help me? I don't care what it takes, I'm willing to do whatever.' So I did whatever and I did everything asked of me."
To pay tribute to Norby, Kruchten has asked his loyal friend to walk him out for his fight at WSOF 9 and be in his corner.
"I couldn't think of any other honor to give a guy that I credit with saving my life, and that's been in my corner, then to have him in my corner," Kruchten said proudly. "He almost cried when I told him."
Kruchten has also been able to give back through the Wounded Warrior project, who will have a large contingent within the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino crowd tonight. Through that project, he was able to first tell his story on MSNBC. It was a very hard thing to bare his soul on National Television, but it ended up being a beneficial and cathartic experience.
"It did. It was way outside my comfort zone," he admits. "There was only three or four people that actually knew my story prior to that. Everybody always knew a little tidbit in and around my story, but nobody really knew the concrete foundation of the story and what really built everything around it. My wife -- she was quite aware -- I talked to my wife. I was approached to do the piece, originally last year and it took me about three months to just say, ‘let's go for it.' I did a lot of soul searching. I actually talked to some family members of individuals who never made it home. They gave me the courage and they said ‘go for it.' I just put it all on the line. It was a hard time to really bare all."
His story was well received and was met with an outpouring of support. Kruchten is more than happy to be a pillar of support for any veteran that needs his help. He has his phone number on all of his social media platforms should anyone want to contact him.
"People think I'm crazy for having it on there, but it's a wave and avenue for any of my brothers or sisters to reach out if that's what they have to do," he explained. "If calling me at three in the morning is going to save one of my brothers or sister's lives, no problem, I'll drop everything. I'll wake up at three morning. It's very rewarding at the same time."
Kruchten is still not a full-time fighter. He is a safety and health officer and quality control manager for a construction firm, and heavily involved with the Wounded Warrior project. The one thing he longed for, especially the day before he almost ended his life-a family-now he can finally say he has one of his own.
His married his wife Christine, who he refers to as his "titanium backbone," only six weeks after they were first introduced by his friend and fellow fighter, KJ Noons. She gave birth to their first daughter last October, and rounding out the family is Kruchten's long time "best friend," his bulldog Dago.
Kruchten heads into tonight's fight sporting an 11-2 record, and although fighting for the biggest promotion he's ever been a part of, "being in Iraq was more than enough pressure," he said, unfazed by tonight's fighting stage.
"I don't think the pressure will be there. The pressure will always be against myself," he said.
Kruchten is has "a lot of respect" for fellow Marine, Corey he said, and both fighters are known for their ground pedigree. "It's definitely both of our strong points," he said.
The six-year veteran says his work with current team Team Oyama has taken his game from "being a two-story building to a skyscraper in a little over a year."
Having touched on so many poignant moments of his life throughout the interview, Kruchten, who has a great sense of humor, ended it by sharing a joke from his jiu-jitsu coach, Giva "The Arm Collector" Santana.
"Giva asked me, ‘You know what happens with a good ground guy against another good ground guy?'" Kruchten said chuckling. He said, ‘Two people just beating the shit out of each other in the middle of the ring.'"
He went from rock bottom, to being saved, to giving back and tonight he will make all of his fellow brothers proud, the ones in the audience and especially the ones inked on his back.
"It's an honor to carry their names into battle with me now."