By John Vargo, O2X West Coast Business Development Manager
I joined O2X as a West Coast Business Development Manager five years after retiring from a 20-year career with the Chandler Fire Department in Arizona. I grew up as one of six children in Arizona and knew shortly after high school that I wanted to pursue a career in the fire service. I was hired by the Chandler Fire Dept in 1997 and married my wife, Danielle, in 1998. We raised two children in Central Phoenix and moved to San Diego, CA in 2016.
While I was an active-duty firefighter, I served on many committees and my favorite was a nonprofit organization I co-founded to raise funds to support fire department personnel traveling around the world to compete in World Police and Fire Games. On my off-duty days, I had a 15-year successful real estate career and was an Investment Adviser Representative (IAR) to my peers on subjects such as asset diversification, portfolio management, and safe retirement strategies. One of the highlights of my career was working on the same engine company with my brother, Dave, before I retired. We grew up as close siblings, dressing the same and playing the same sports; being able to share our work experience together was very special to both of us.
Shortly after I retired from the fire department, during a 4-day retreat, I learned about the power of meditation. It was the first time in my life I had ever tried something to improve my mental health. I was always focused on my physical health and thought dark humor at the station was the best way to work through situations that should have been taken more seriously.
Throughout my career we had critical incident stress debrief meetings after particularly horrendous calls, but the system wasn’t set up to do much more beyond the immediate discussion. Over the years, I suffered for it, and it’s only since I began to openly speak about mental wellness that it has become evident that many, many of my brothers and sisters in the fire department have struggled for years, as well.
Meditation and mindfulness provided me tremendous peace and a calmness that I hadn’t experienced in years. It made such an impact on my life that I committed to making it my purpose to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the public sector. I focused my efforts on careers that have seen some of the most human suffering and devastation – military, fire and police departments, and any other first responders throughout the country. I formed Turn In, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, in April 2018, nine months after I retired from fire.
Turn In introduces first responders to meditation and performance through mindfulness. Over the past four years, Turn In has hosted multiple wellness retreats and provided one-on-one mindfulness coaching and substance abuse education to first responders. More recently, I have focused on first responder couples 1-day workshops, which are filled with practical tools to re-connect spouses and support communication; the tools Turn In offers are most successful when partners understand why the tools are necessary in the first place and, often times, the first responder’s partner needs the tools, as well. Our team of instructors introduce participants to couples’ yoga, breath-work, a couples’ ice bath, and meditation.
I have also had the opportunity to be keynote speaker addressing first responder mental wellness for various state and city agencies across the country. To strengthen my mission further, I also became a Certified mPEAK Instructor through the University of California San Diego Center for Mindfulness, in addition to being a Chopra Certified Meditation Instructor.
I traveled back to Chandler, AZ in March 2022 to attend a 3-day workshop promoted and put on by a company I had been following on social media, O2X. I was simply blown away by the caliber of the instructors and the subject matter experts. The training modules were unlike any I had experienced before. I recognized so much of the material I had been teaching over the last four years in the O2X THRIVE curriculum. We covered breathing strategies for stressful situations, the science behind meditation, and the importance of a daily mindfulness practice. The complementing pillars focusing on nutrition, sleep, functional movement, injury prevention, strength and conditioning rounded out their EAT SWEAT THRIVE curriculum.
As I laid on a yoga mat during the iRest meditation with 50 other workshop participants, I was struck by an overwhelming gratitude for O2X. This company and its founders were serving my fellow first responders in ways that will better their lives, the lives of their families, and their community. As the workshop concluded, it was clear to me that I needed to be on the O2X team.
I interviewed with the founders of the company, and they asked, “Why do you want to be a part of O2X, and what role do you see yourself in?” My answer was simple and the reason I founded Turn In: I want to provide the training and education to first responders that I wish I had received 25 years ago starting my career and every day thereafter. I want to provide training that will help others live a more balanced life, training to help first responders transition home after a shift, education about the food we put in our bodies, the importance of proper sleep, the importance of properly warming up and recovering from a workout, and practical ways to combat stress on and off the job.
The mission at O2X is “Improving the lives of tactical athletes through world class human performance programs.” In the short time I have been on the O2X team, I have seen first-hand hundreds of tactical athletes make changes to improve their lives mentally and physically. I finished my answer by saying that I wanted to be in the role of business development to introduce the O2X experience to departments on the west coast and witness the positive ripple effect in the lives of every tactical athlete we encounter. Offering a better way to live and seeing the changes happen is my purpose!