Meet Michael Leonard

Physician Assistant at Sanford Sports Complex Acute Care and Orthopedic Fast Track Clinic, Sanford Health

For the last six years, Michael has been a physician assistant in acute care clinics in Sioux Falls. But this changed during the pandemic when Michael and his colleagues evaluated, treated and educated patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infections.

In his position, he saw firsthand the impact COVID-19 had on patients. So, when Michael found a way to help, he didn’t hesitate.

“Last summer, I stumbled upon an opportunity to give back to those affected by COVID-19 through the IRONMAN Foundation,” says Michael.

“I have raced in the past, and I had already been considering doing a longer race again,” he explains. “Then, I found out what the IRONMAN Foundation was doing for COVID-19 relief, so I immediately signed up and started training.”

IRONMAN is a long-distance triathlon race that includes swimming, cycling and running. Since 2003, the organization has helped raise more than $50 million with its charitable giveback programs, including the IRONMAN Foundation.

Through these fundraising endeavors, IRONMAN athletes like Michael can support their communities long after race day. For Michael, being able to give back to his patients made all the hard training worth it.

“I got started in racing to practice what I preached,” says Michael. “At the time, I was working in a cardiac area for a hospital in Montana, and I wanted to add more cardiovascular exercise into my everyday life.”

Michael says he transitioned from “kind of” jogging to completing a few 5Ks and 10Ks to half marathons, full marathons and eventually triathlons.

“It’s good accountability to keep me active and moving. By the time the running, the biking and the swimming are done, you’re happy you made yourself do it,” says Michael. “Before I was a PA, I did a couple of shorter triathlons. Then, when I was a student in PA school in Nevada, I did a half IRONMAN. It was a nice escape from studying.”

While still in school, Michael won a random drawing entry into a full IRONMAN race in Florida.

“I somehow managed to train while I was a full-time student. It took a lot of balance and time management, but I did it, and it felt good,” he says.

In the eight years since, Michael hadn’t done a triathlon as long as IRONMAN. That is until he finished the IRONMAN Des Moines 70.3 triathlon on June 20, 2021.

Michael completed a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run, while raising over $2,000 for COVID-19 relief to support local families.

“This wasn’t my first experience raising money for a cause. I did the New York Marathon and a couple triathlons as fundraisers, too,” he explains. “However, this race was a real nice union of my work and passion that hopefully coincides with nearing the closure of the pandemic.”

“I am proud of the work I’ve done at Sanford Health, especially during the pandemic, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve patients in our clinics and through the IRONMAN Triathlon,” he adds. “This seemed like a meaningful, positive, fulfilling and poetic way to give back.”

When Michael isn’t prepping for an endurance race, he spends his free time woodworking, enjoying coffee and relaxing at home with his two sons. He is back to providing expert acute care to patients in Sioux Falls and will be completing a half IRONMAN on Oct. 30 in Oceanside, Calif.