Building Trust (Despite the Sharks)
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich finds food, shelter and bipartisanship on a desert island.
The south Pacific island Erdu is home to one of the world’s largest shark sanctuaries as well as venomous stonefish, lionfish and scorpion fish, and, for six days and nights this past August, two U.S. senators.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, BS ME ’95, a Democrat from New Mexico, and Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, spent nearly a week marooned on the desert (and deserted) island working together simply to survive. They invited along a production team from the cable network Discovery Channel to film the adventure, the results of which will air 9 p.m. CDT Wednesday as the one‐off reality show Rival Survival.
Faced with finding food and building shelter using minimal supplies, Heinrich found his mechanical engineering experience at Mizzou helpful. “Having good technical and construction skills came in handy on a number of occasions,” he says. “It was probably one of my strengths.”
A graduate of Cole Camp (Missouri) High School, Heinrich met his wife, Julie Hicks Heinrich, BJ ’93, while at MU. After he graduated, they moved to Albuquerque where he got a job with an engineering contractor. In 2008 he was elected to the first of two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before winning a Senate seat in 2012.
Heinrich is an avid outdoorsmen and loves to scuba and free dive thanks to a stopover in Fiji on his way to a study‐abroad program in Perth, Australia, during college. But his six days of survival living was still a challenge. The team arrived on the island during a large storm. The water was too choppy for him and Flake to be dropped off on shore, so they swam in from water that was 200 feet deep. Then the sharks joined them. “It was an interesting exercise in mental self‐control the whole time,” Heinrich says. “From day one it was a relatively tough, difficult adventure.”
Heinrich says he has always gotten along well with Flake — he invited Heinrich on the trip after they got to chatting about vacations and spear fishing during a late‐night Senate voting session — but their relationship has deepened since Erdu.
“Despite the fact we disagree on most issues, we trust each other,” he says. “That’s the thing both of us have seen missing from the Senate these days. We’re both going to work to find ways to restore that level of trust.”