First responders and members of the military have physically and mentally demanding jobs. To tackle those jobs effectively, they need to be in shape physically and mentally. But most first responders have erratic schedules that make working out difficult, so that many don’t, and consequently suffer from injuries and poor health. My guest today is a former Navy SEAL on a mission to solve that problem. His name is Adam La Reau, and he’s the founder of O2X, an organization dedicated to training tactical athletes.
Adam walks us through the unique challenges soldiers and first responders have when it comes to physical fitness and explains his philosophy on training “tactical athletes.” We then discuss insights civilians can take away from how first responders train, including making time for working out on an erratic schedule, managing stress, and making recovery a priority.
We end our conversation discussing the other organization Adam founded called One Summit, which pairs children who have cancer with a Navy SEAL mentor who helps the kids gain greater resilience through rock climbing.
- How Adam went from the Merchant Marine to the SEALs
- Why Adam then decided to get his Master’s degree
- Why there was a need for an organization like O2X
- The unique fitness requirements of first responders/military personnel
- The sleep problems that come with irregular work schedules
- 3 pillars of O2X’s philosophy
- The fitness methodology that Adam uses with clients
- Why goals and routines need to be realistic, first and foremost
- The importance of recovery and relaxation, and why that’s hard for these tactical athletes
- The work Adam is doing with kids who have cancer
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- What It Takes to Become a Navy SEAL
- The Way of the SEAL
- Merchant Marine Academy
- Social entrepreneurship
- Get 1% Better Every Day
- Becoming a Tactical Athlete
- 22 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
- Which Fitness Program is Right For You?
- Your 15-Minute Morning Bodyweight Workout Routine
- Get Stronger by Improving Your Post-Workout Recovery
Connect With Adam and His Organizations
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Recorded on ClearCast.io
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. First responders and members of the military have physically and mentally demanding jobs. To tackle those jobs effectively, they need to be in shape physically and mentally. But most first responders have an erratic schedule that makes working out difficult, so many don’t and consequently suffer from injuries and poor health. My guest today is a former Navy Seal on a mission to solve that problem. His name is Adam La Reau, and he’s the founder of O2X, an organization dedicated to training tactical athletes. Adam walks us through the unique challenges soldiers and first responders have when it comes to physical fitness and explains his philosophy on training tactical athletes. We then discuss insights civilians can take away from how first responders train including making time for working out on an erratic schedule, managing stress, and making recovery a priority.
We end our conversation discussing the other organization Adam founded called One Summit which pairs children who have cancer with a Navy Seal mentor who helps these kids gain greater resilience through rock climbing. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at AOM.IS/O2X, that’s O2X not zero two X, O2X. You can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic. And Adam joins me now via clearcast.io.
Adam La Reau, welcome to the show.
Adam La Reau: Hey Brett, thanks for having me on.
Brett McKay: So, we got interesting background. We’re going to talk about these organizations you founded. But before we do, tell us about your Seal background. You were a Navy Seal. How’s that work? Are you always a Navy Seal or like you leave the Seals? What’s the status on that? I’ve always-
Adam La Reau: I’m okay being a former Navy Seal.
Brett McKay: Okay. Former Navy Seal. All right, so what led you to join the Navy Seals?
Adam La Reau: A lot of it started with my family, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about that initially, is my mother and father were both teachers. I grew up in New Jersey. They grew in Albany, New York, kind of grew up down the street from each other. Actually my mom and dad met when my dad was nine years old and delivering newspapers. So, this little girl that used to wait for him every morning and get the paper. And believe it or not, that happened. And my grandfather worked for Nabisco, drove a truck for Nabisco, the cracker company. Ended up in New Jersey. They kind of went their separate ways. My dad got drafted. He went to college, University at Albany, and got drafted, came back after Vietnam and married my mother in New Jersey. And I can tell you they were, my mom was a second grade teacher. My dad was a gym teacher for a while and a soccer coach, and then went on to sales.
And I could tell you by watching them, they just had a culture in the household and raised us to really kind of be anybody we want to be. I was fascinated with the military. I mean, there was a time where I was always just looking at my dad’s uniform in the closet and asking him questions about it. But really the values that my family instilled in the household and kind of brought and raised us up. I have an older sister and a younger brother. Those values, when I stumbled across the Seal teams at a fairly young age, those values that the Seal teams embodied and kind of what my family believed in and I was raised on, kind of merged pretty well.
So, always a very goal-oriented person at a young age. So, I mean I remember walking into my guidance counselor in eighth grade and said, “I want to go to Naval Academy. I want to be a Seal officer.” And I think back then they were like, “Ah, pump your breaks. It’s going to change quite a bit.” But I was certainly focused on that. Didn’t necessarily chose the exact path of going to Naval Academy. I ended up going to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. So, I graduated from high school, went to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. And the big challenge there was finding the direct pathway to even apply to the Seal teams.
Because from up until that point, no one has ever went directly from the Merchant Marine Academy and then gotten right to Seal training before. So finding a pathway, and there’s a certain amount of spots on how that works. Back then there was about 40 spots and most of them came from Naval Academy, and the rest would come from ROTC spots or OCS. And trained quite a bit and met a lot of people and had some great help and great mentors along the way, and was lucky enough to get picked up and selected my senior year for what they would call basic underwater demolition Seal training.
Brett McKay: Awesome. So yeah, Merchant Marine. We had a podcast about the Merchant Marines during World War II. It’s one of those, it’s like part of the military that a lot of people don’t know a lot about.
Adam La Reau: That’s right. It’s kind of like the best kept secret out there for federal academies, I think. I mean you could, at this point, there’s a pathway to go Army, Navy Air Force, Marine Corps, Cost Guard, Air National Guard or stay in the Merchant Marine. But it’s unique school that you do four years of schooling in three years, and you have to do a year overseas. And its’ divided up on what sport you played on what year how many, and you might be gone four months your Sophomore year and eight months your Junior year. You’re just out there on merchant vessels working and getting, collecting enough sea days and learning enough hands-on training combined with the curriculum at school to sit for your Coast Guard exam your Senior year. But the school was founded during World War II. It was actually on the grounds of Chrysler’s old building. So, you had a direct line of sight into New York City, which was interesting because I was there at the Merchant Marine Academy when 9/11 happened, and we were able to see the, everything kind of unfold in front of our eyes there. Graduated in 2002.
But unique campus, unique area, and definitely unique opportunities. But the Merchant Marine Academy, even during World War II, we lost 142 mid-shipment during that time, because they were just pumping kids out in mid-shipment out after a year-and-a-half of training to get out, and which now knows as the tin can sailors.
Brett McKay: Right. So, I guess were you the first Merchant Marine mid-shipment to become a Navy Seal?
Adam La Reau: That went directly from the Academy right to Seal training and become a Seal, yes.
Brett McKay: Awesome. And after you completed BUD/S what team were you with on the Seals?
Adam La Reau: So, I went to East Coast. I went right to Seal Team Four. Then it was over at eight. So, I spent all my time on the East Coast based Seal teams, which being from New Jersey, I was able to be in the same timezone and during, between training trips and deployments, I still had opportunity to see my family up north, see my sister’s kids and my brother, and watched him kind of grow up and play sports and things like that.
Brett McKay: All right, so you did Seals. After you left active duty, you decided to go to Harvard to get your Masters in what NPA, was it Masters in Public, what’s that? Administration?
Adam La Reau: Yeah, Masters of Public Administration.
Brett McKay: Yeah. What was going on there> what was your plan with that?
Adam La Reau: Let’s say Harvard was a little bit of a Hail Mary for me. I put my application in. I looked at, did a lot of different programs. For one, I was just transitioning after about 11-and-a-half years in the Seal teams, deploying and gone quite a bit. I was looking for basically to challenge myself in, I guess in the civilian sector. I wanted to really put my hand and try my hand in entrepreneurship. But a big thread for me was service. I wanted to continue to serve in ways outside the military when I wasn’t wearing a uniform. The Harvard Kennedy School seemed like an accredible program. For one it was one-year program. At the time I was 33, 34 years old, so I was like, “Hey, I just want to go there.” There’s a lot of seams that I need to fill. And I had a lot of experiences, and a lot of leadership time. But a lot of seams that I thought that I needed to fill. And maybe some time to just kind of reflect a bit. And grad school seemed like a great transition program.
One topic that was and one subject that I kept on reading about was social entrepreneurship. So, this is impact. How can you start organizations and companies that leave impact, and leave I guess the world in a better place than you found it? And I thought that that was really unique. I thought that based on a lot of the experiences that I had and lucky enough to serve with some of the most amazing people, Seals, men and women, support staff, and had a lot of great experiences along the way, I was like, I thought that was really fascinating to me. How can I continue to serve outside the military? How can I continue to have an impact or start an organization that would help me facilitate that?
The Kennedy School of Education was very elective-driven. And I liked that aspect. So, I said, “All right, well I can take a class over at Harvard Business School in Entrepreneurial Finance. I can go to MIT and take a, cross-register in a class of start-up challenges, or stop by classes at the Law School, or even just learn about statistics and policy, and how to make impact through public, in the public sector. And really that tied pretty heavily into both organizations that I ended up founding and co-founding.
Brett McKay: Right. So, let’s talk about that. You graduate, got your MPA, and you helped found not just one, but two organizations. Let’s talk about O2X Human Performance first. Tell us what is it like? Who are your main clients?
Adam La Reau: So, O2X is a human performance education and training company. And what we founded it as, I mean our mission was always being help people maximize human performance. How to reach peak and sustain peak performance. And the big thing is durability, sustainability, longevity. I mean, how can we continue and get people to go through a transformational experience to educate, provide the tools for them to improve by one percent every day. And we started out, initially we had a great vision of, we had a lot of people out there, a lot of organizations that we would look at. They have a product and they try to build a brand around a product. And we wanted to provide an experience.
And we started out with this, a base to peak mountain race. And it sounds, it’s quite intense. And I think if all the participants knew what it was before they started, they probably wouldn’t have signed up for it. We had some pretty extreme athletes, like top Nike runners and trail runners and off trail mountain racers that were there. But then we just had everyday athletes, or people that were just coming out there because they wanted to be inspired. They wanted to get back to the outdoors. And we utilized that and the basis of the center of gravity of that event, Brett, was, that was our base camp. And our base camp was education. It was fireside that we called it, we had human performance specialists and the mission was always to maximize human performance. And we started with that, and grew it in the Northeast, and it expanded across North America. We had some race in Canada, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and over that time, we really honed in and developed our curriculum, which is now what we out roll into our main market which is tactical athletes.
Tactical athletes for us is people with physically, mentally, emotionally challenging jobs, ones that our nation’s heroes are out there on the front lines every single day that give us the opportunity for us to kind of be safe and live our lives. They’re the first responders, the police officers. They’re fire fighters which we work with, quite a few of them. EMS, department of corrections, it’s our military. So, we’ve worked with quite a few departments across the country now. We started out with Boston Fire, expanded out, even working with about 20% of Montana. So, we’re slowly building and growing and delivering our education program that primarily is tackling a lot of the occupational challenges that are plaguing these tactical athletes.
Brett McKay: And what are those occupational challenges? Like what unique fitness issues do they have that say, like just a regular citizen doesn’t have?
Adam La Reau: So, I’ll go back to a little story of how we came into the tactical space. For one, our background being in the military and special operations is something that we were passionate about. We had a lot of first responders that came to our events. They wanted more. We ended up having a meeting with Boston Fire. And I can remember every detail about that meeting. The other co founder, we have two other co founders with O2X, both are former Navy Seals, one I served with Paul McCullough, and the other one is Gabriel Gomez who got out right around 1996. So, I remember walking into this meeting, and we walked in and they said they were looking for an injury prevention program. Mainly they had over 100 shoulder surgeries a year. And of course, for one, it wasn’t sustainable. Two, it’s costing the city incredible amount of money. And people are just not feeling good.
In the meeting we had the union, which was kind of like our first exposure into not only the Boston FD but the firefighting union as a whole. But obviously all these first responders have unions. So, we had the International Association of Firefighters or the Massachusetts State Firefighters Union, and the Local 718 which is about 1500 members strong with Boston Fire there. And then we had Health and Safety Division. And so the Health and Safety Division of Boston Fire was really just getting re energized. Because there’s a lot of these issues that they had to do something about. They could not turn their head. And it’s interesting because you look at the fire service or really first responders as a whole, I mean you’re, Boston Fire was the first fire department in the country. It was the nation’s first. And about mid-1600s, like 1650, so I think they got the first engine in, the first paid firefighter, the first fire chief was like in 1670s at some point.
So, a ton of history. And a ton of amazing things about the culture. For one, incredibly tough guys. Like tough guys that really step up to these challenges that they face every day. But there’s also things about the traditions and culture that needed to change a bit. And it wasn’t just about fitness. It’s about general performance and what you needed to do and how you needed to perform on the fire ground and with your tasks. Some of these issues they had were, and this is what we peel the onion back in that meeting, was it wasn’t just shoulder surgeries, which over 100 a year is quite a bit. It was the sleep apnea and the shift work. It was obesity or Type two diabetes. It was the cardiac disease, which is rivaling basically number one killer of firefighters, occupational related killer of firefighters.
And then there’s cancer. So the cancer, every three weeks a Boston firefighter is diagnosed with cancer. And cancer is prevalent, and I think the statistic is you’re two-and-a-half times more likely to get cancer as a firefighter than just anyone in the average population. And the reason is that for one, there’s occupational related hazards all over the place. Everything is flame retardant materials, and the carcinogens in these fires, whether it’s a car fire, house fire, whether you can see the smoke or not, it’s in the air. So, it’s kind of a caustic cocktail between, okay maybe fitness wasn’t a priority, training for performance isn’t a priority. Maintaining your weight wasn’t a priority for some. The sleep and the shift work made it really hard to recover and feel good.
So, during that meeting, and truthfully we didn’t know which direction it was going to do, because we were talking about tackling all this holistically. Because it’s not too far off, maybe minus the cancer, it wasn’t too far off of what we saw in the military, and what we wish we had. And that’s the premise of where O2X came from. This is the program, the education, the holistic, the complete program, the curriculum that we wish we had. It was more or less teaching everybody how to fish versus to catch the fish for them. So, how do all these things interconnect and how do we take care of ourselves so we can finish our careers as strong as we started them?
Brett McKay: Got you. So, fire fighters, police officers, EMS, soldiers, like let’s talk about there physical, your strength and conditioning programs for these guys. Do you train them pretty much all the same, or do you modify it based on their occupation?
Adam La Reau: No. We definitely modify it. We modify it not only to the occupation, but also where they’re at. For one, first responders, I mean you have some wild land firefighter that are 22, 23 years old. Or some of those individuals that we, we train a lot of recruit classes in the academies. And you have some military veterans come out at 24. But then you have some that are 60 years old. So, and they’re all different demands. They have different positions and roles. We talk about law enforcement, you talk about maybe a SWAT team or ESU, maybe people that are doing a lot of search warrants that are kind of getting their hands-on and kind of really dealing with certain sort of nonpermissive environments or hostile suspects and things like that. Versus say, firefighter in Boston is doing 30 calls a night, versus a wild land firefighter that is spending multi days without sleeping in the field and battling firefighters, and pretty much fighting fires with garden tools, for the most part. So, we have to analyze, how we train them is very, our model is eat, sweat and thrive.
And under our sweat pillar is, a big part, it’s very personalized. And it’s personalized through like a needs analysis. So basically, physiologically what do you need for your job to perform? What are your specific job tasks and I mean, I just came from a workshop outside of Chicago last, like really last couple of days. And we were going through this. And we were talking, each individual was like, tell me, tell me about your job. What are your specific needs that you have? What is the specific movements? Squatting? Is it tight, confined spaces? Uneven terrain? Very hot or extreme temperature environments? What are the type of injuries that you have? What are preexisting things that you’ve had before?
And then also what’s people’s training age? Training age is like really the age that you’ve been training correctly. The duration of the age you’ve been training correctly for. So, if you’re been trained and you’re a competitive athlete, and you were in the weight room at 15 years old, and really had an idea, you knew what you were doing, and you’re 30 years old, your training age would be 15 years.
Which is someone that has never been trained before, maybe wasn’t as athletic or maybe did not, weren’t involved in sports and is kind of a late bloomer when it comes to that, and they’ve only really been training for a couple of years, believe it or not. So, we have to look at the skillsets of everybody too of what they’re doing.
So, we believe in three things under our sweat pillar. Not only about, for one, specificity of training, like what is your job. Because performance is so job specific and your training should be as well. Right? I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that a strong man is very kind of fit in his own way, and so is an ultra marathoner. But if you stuck a strong man in the water and told him to swim, it might not bode so well. Or If you took an ultra marathoner and say, “Hey, pick up that Atlas stone over there.” That might not help. Right? So, when we’re talking about this, like we need to train for performance versus training for fitness. And if you train for performance and your job task, well the byproduct is you will get fit but you will be prepared for your job.
Brett McKay: So, what kind of stuff you have, so I imagine there’s like, are you guys doing like kind of Crossfit type stuff? Barbell training? What is that like a typical program might look like.
Adam La Reau: So, a typical program, it’s all, we call it puritization, which I’m sure you’ve heard before. It’s a, kind of a methodology is like what are we looking at? What energy systems? Whether its aerobic, anaerobic. Whether it’s obviously analyzing your needs and demands. And then setting up a structured program. It’s not waking up and being like, “Ah, I wonder what I should do today?” It’s very structured. It’s we have programs that are very basic for people that are three days a week. We have programs that are five days a week. We have more advanced programs. Some of the, it’s not Crossfit style, I would say. It is more of hitting the right energy systems at the right times, knowing that you have to be ready for I’d say, “It’d be the toughest day of your life.” When you get that call, you need to be prepared for, you have to have certain amount of preparation.
And if you’re just a runner and you’re just kind of more of an aerobic athlete, well, you may not be able to pull your buddy out of that fire. So, we have to, when we talk to them about it, we’re like, all right, we have 50, 60 different programs on our tactical athlete portal. We have this portal that houses all of our education information. We give them access to that. And we’ll have them go through and basically say, “All right, I need to develop more strength. So, what’s that going to look like?” And to get to your question, it might be more barbell training. It might be more working on some explosive speed. It might be someone who is aerobically built or that needs to put a couple of pounds of muscle on, it might be more focused on that. So, we’re very, I’d say very structured in our programming. However, I want people to go home, and when they come through O2X to find it approachable for everybody. So, we’re not training the same way for a 60-year-old fire fighter who’s been in service for 30 years versus a 25-year-old.
On some ways, what I’m seeing in the first responders is it’s extremes on both sides. I see people that are working out and are pretty much in the over training range, and then I see people that are not training at all. So, I also don’t want to implement something that’s so structured that they’re not going to stay with and that they’re not going to have fun with. Because I want to make sure that it’s fun, its exciting for them. And also, I want to meet them where they are. And I want it to be approachable. So, some of the first responders that we’ve had in our course, some of the tactical guys it’s been a long time, believe it or not, since they’ve trained.
So, we go through our methodology of prepare, sweat, recover. So, we’re preparing for movement, which kind of involves a lot of like front planks and side planks and work on basically firing your muscles before movement. We do a lot of those mini bands that we get. We’re kind of partnered with Perform Better, so these little mini bands you put around your ankles, your knees, and we can get your posterior chain, like your glutes, your hamstrings firing, so we can get those movements ready. Then we go into a dynamic warmup. And we’re basically preparing them for actual movement, what their sweat is. And then we do some foam rolling and static stretching, which we call the recover section at the end. But there’s some people that come through our course, or some of our first responders say, “I don’t even know where to start with some of my team that might be 80-plus pounds overweight.” And we say, “Well, you might want to just start with the prepare and the recover.” You might want to just help them getting active and feel approachable and kind of improving, we say this over and over again is that improving by one percent every day, just get people moving again to start feeling better.
So our model, I feel like it is very structured. It is very science and evidence-based in fact, fundamentally sound. But we want to make sure that if someone writes in and they want to run a five K and they want to train with a five K in their hometown with their wife, well, there’s some benefits of that, of them working together and motivation that will help just get them started on a program or working towards a goal. It’s a lot of goal setting, Brett.
Brett McKay: Right. I think how you train these guys or what, I mean because I think. When I’ve talked to people who’ve wanted to start working out, just talking about regular civilians, one of the things like the hurdles they have, “I just don’t have the time. It just doesn’t fit in my schedule.” But like you’re working with people whose schedule is like super erratic. Right? And it’s super, already pretty strenuous. Yet they’re finding time to do this. So, what allows them to do that? How do you get these guys to train even thought their schedule might be wonky, or they just got back and had a terrible shift, it was super hard. But they still got to train. So, what do you do to help them do that?
Adam La Reau: Yeah. Well for one, I bring up the goal setting, because I think that setting some very tight goals and also finding motivation, any time you can align someone’s values behind what their goal is, and for a lot of the people I think that listen to your show, they just want to feel better. Right? And we’re not saying that you have to live this rigorous life and you have to start five days a week training and getting up at four o’clock in the morning. You don’t necessarily need to do that. You just need to be able to set a goal. If your goal in six months is to start feeling better and to start getting in better shape and to start losing some pounds, like getting very specific on the goals and setting a structured program and easing into things.
So, someone who hasn’t even touched it, they say, for one, “I don’t have time to work out.” Well, some of the first responders we have, the only get about 15 minutes between calls. And they’ll find an opportunity to work out. And we hear another thing, it’s like, “I don’t have equipment.” Well, there’s a lot of places that we served in in the military that didn’t have equipment. And the one thing you have always is you have gravity. Right? And you got your body weight. So, there’s incredible amount of things that you can do with just your body weight and really just using body weight conditioning exercises and things that you can tackle. And if you start, set goals, start building a routine, couldn’t preach building a strong and a realistic routine for yourself, then it starts developing better habits.
But I would say that for the listeners, if you’re starting with a one percent change, if you can just move a little bit more every day, if you can set, “Hey, I’m going to take ten minutes to foam roll in the morning.” Or, “I’m going to take ten minutes to do a body weight workout at some point where I know I can control the day.” And I think that’s very important. I know that’s for me is being able to put my workouts and put my training sessions in a time of the day that I can control. Because essentially once 6:30 hits, I mean the emails or phone calls are coming in, and we’re just going. And it doesn’t necessarily stop, so, I know I really value and cherish my mornings. That’s my time for my own professional development. And I can tell you that if you don’t take care of yourself, everything else, your business, your family, how you perform, it seems like all that other stuff starts coming apart. So, you got to set yourself as a priority. You have to.
Brett McKay: Right. So yeah, I think a good insight there’s like don’t expect perfection all the time. Do what you can to control the situation with your workout, but sometimes you can only do what you can do, and that’s okay.
Adam La Reau: Yeah, same thing with the nutrition component is the same, we see a lot of people who just, they’re trying to do too much too quick. And if it’s not a sustainable plan that you can do for the rest of your life, I mean it’s hard to achieve a lot of your goals if, I think the adage is, “You can’t outwork a bad fork.” So, you can work really hard and train really hard, but if your nutrition is lacking, it’s really challenging. So, I think staying ahead of that, but not feeling guilty when you miss a workout. I mean, that’s going to happen. Life happens, right? My sister’s got three kids and it always sounds like, every time I call it sounds like World War III in the background, and I know that she’s got a lot going on. But finding those moments for themselves and finding some time to take a moment to structure a program, and not feeling guilty when life happens say say, “Hey, this week’s at 80/20.” If you can do 80% of the time. If you can do what’s right, that’s great. 20% of the time, like don’t feel guilty having that dessert at dinner. Right? Don’t eat half of it. Just commit to and eat the whole thing. Just get back after it the next morning.
Brett McKay: Right. Well, so an important part of physical fitness, a lot of people focus on the training and the nutrition part, but like where the growth happen is during recovery. Right? When you’re not training. But I imagine recovery for these guys, these tactile athletes is hard because as you said, they’re doing shift work, so they might be, sleep’s an important part of recovery. These guys might be awake when they should be asleep. So, how do you manage recovery for these guys?
Adam La Reau: Yeah, I mean for one, recovery time is completely unpredictable. Because you don’t know when you’re going to get the next call. You’re operating in extreme unpredictable environments, terrain, there’s shift work, and the variety of different shift schedules, some are better than others, and a lot of high pressure situations, and giving them tools to recover and relax, which gets a lot into our thrive pillar, which is the mental performance, stress mitigation, is very critical in that recovery process. In our programs, we teach about breathing. We teach about mindfulness and yoga. We teach about the value of sleep and sleep hygiene and building really good sleep habits. Knowing how to set up your environment to sleep where it is a place of recovery. Right?
And also mindset. You have to make it a priority. All these things are prioritizing the right way. And if you make sleep a priority and make that a priority as, “Hey, this is part of my job preparation.” And I don’t care if it’s in the boardroom or out in the field or in the military, I mean, there’s an element of, like you have to recover there. Now there’s time where these guys are working a 24 hour shift and doing 33 calls a night. They’re busy. They don’t have time. But to be able to give them the tools to take care of, where a lot, Brett, it gets into is what’s between the ears. Right? So, taking care of everything, taking care of your mind, and provide those tools so when they are off shift and when the dust settles, after the helicopters kind of take off and you’re there, you have that time to relax, you have that time.
And you have those tools in your toolbox at your disposal. And I don’t expect people to, they come through our program, they come through our workshops, they see our online courses, and to be subject matter experts. And I don’t want to give them, the problem with having a complete holistic program is there’s a lot of information. So how to make it very, very simple. And so we give them access to things like that tactical athlete portal, which has those breathing exercises on, and it has the yoga nidra, the eye rest, the sleep, the meditation. And so, we can start building those healthy habits there and also training a new skillset because the conditioning and nutrition, I mean there’s a lot of the science evidence, things change a bit, but maybe not as rapid as we all think, what’s fundamentally sound.
But I can tell you at every workshop, every time that we go out and train tactical athletes, we do work even with the Chicago Blackhawks, professional sports, some federal agencies, and we always ask what percentage of your job is mental versus physical? I will tell you 100% of the time in every single job, and even within corporation, they said their job is more mental than physical. And then we’re like why don’t we train that? If your job is, people say various different percentages, but they all say it’s more than less, they would say, “Well, why don’t we train what’s between the ears then?” If that’s a higher focus or that’s a higher probability. We’re always going towards the nutrition and the conditioning, but can’t underestimate the value of the rest, the recovery, dealing with stress management which is a huge things for these types of high stress occupations. It’s kind of tough to manage the day-to-day. Their jobs are not easy.
Brett McKay: Right. I imagine that’s how you sell it to them. Because I can see a lot of these, you said firefighters, these guys are tough guys. Police officers saying like you tell them like, “Hey, you need to meditate.” And they probably have these associations of meditation of like sitting in yoga pants or something.
Adam La Reau: That’s right.
Brett McKay: But, you sound like, your job is mental, like train the mental.
Adam La Reau: Yeah, there’s an element of grit and toughness that needs to be a part of it. I’d say from the mental performance side, when you bring up some of the top athletes or, I’d say it’s become more and more acceptable now because you’re hearing a lot more about it, whether it’s in athletics or in a special operations community. But it’s all in the messaging and it’s all how the curriculum is out rolled. To walk into a firehouse, to walk into a police station, or a team room or a locker room and say, “All right guys, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to get down here and start meditating and we’re going to really practice breathing.” That would not work well. To be able to kind of get them to trust and buy into the program, and most importantly see the results. And I think what people see these results and these impact, it could be feeling better from a mental health standpoint, managing stress.
Some of the law enforcement officers that are out there, I mean, they’re by themselves, they’re operating by themselves. And so, there probably couldn’t be a more stressful time than now to be a law enforcement officer, and there’s a lot of pressures and a lot of stress. There’s a lot of visibility. There’s a lot of oversight that’s happening. And when you come from a domestic dispute and then you’re going into a high speed chase and you’re also detaining somebody, and then you’re going to an overdose, and then you’re standing in the middle of the traffic directing traffic in the morning as everyone’s going to work, when I pass those law enforcement officers and police officers out in the field, traffic, I can’t imagine what’s, the ones that we work with, it’s like the person that’s directing traffic there, they just could have had one hell of a night. And her you are passing them on your way to work. N it’s to provide them the tools in order to kind of self-regulate, to be able to, “Hey, when I’m in my car and I got a minute, I got time to kind of just catch my breath and to be able to kind of recenter and get back into the zone.”
And it’s the same thing we talk about with our athletes: Hey, how do you know when you’re in a bad spot and you’re at a level of a five, and you need to be playing at a seven? How do you change that?
Brett McKay: So, that’s O2X Performance. You guys are helping, like that’s one way you make an impact is with the first responders, getting them not only in shape physically but also mentally.
Let’s talk about the other organization you founded. One Summit. What’s that?
Adam La Reau: One Summit is a nonprofit that builds resilience in children battling cancer. We do this through a couple of different pillars, but experiential learning, we take them rock climbing. We do it through storytelling. We have opportunity for them to kind of tell their stories. And then also education into the community, so community engagement.
Brett McKay: But what makes it unique too is that you also hook these kids up with a Navy Seal mentor, right?
Adam La Reau: Yeah, that’s correct. So, actually it was right around the same time that I put together O2X. One Summit was really my first idea coming out of the military. Unfortunately I lost my mother to cancer on my first deployment. Was deployed and kind of got the word that my mom passed away. She was battling breast cancer for about a year-and-a-half. She fought it really hard, inspired a lot of people along the way. And that was the first time I’ve ever had an exposure to cancer. That was the closest I’ve ever been to it before. Didn’t know much about it at the time. And I wanted to do, find a way to help and learn more and get closer to the thing that really took someone who I cared about and loved so much.
So, I started volunteering at a variety of different cancer organizations, and over time, was surprised on how many children get cancer. And it seemed like an incredibly unfair fight to me. Hear if things that happen to us later in life, I mean, yeah we can reflect on a lot of experiences we’ve had, and we can kind of dig deep with inside and kind of reflect on those experience to kind of inspire us to rise to the occasion and fight in battle. But to me, when these kids were getting cancer at a number of different ages, I mean, it’s completely an unbiased disease, right? It was just an unfair fight. It was like pulling their childhood from them when they should be in school, when they should be out on the playgrounds and playing sports and having fun. They’re spending their time their other locker room, which is really the pediatric oncology center and going through chemotherapy, and going through radiation and hearing all these prognosis. Not only but if they make it through, but all the possible secondary impacts that could have that a lot of people don’t talk about along the way.
During that time when I was volunteering, I was obviously serving in the Seal teams and I happened to be surrounded by just an incredible bunch of human beings that were extremely inspirational. They were tougher than hell. And I tell you, they, I saw an opportunity to merge kind of two of my passions and two of my worlds together. All I wanted to do is just, I thought that it was a great opportunity to connect this group that was very resilient, but I thought also needed another connection outside the military. And then I saw this group of kids that were battling and they were both warriors in their own sense. But merging these two warriors together kind of created something great.
At first, I reached out to a lot of different hospitals, well mainly because I was moving up to Boston, Massachusetts. There an incredible amount of hospitals. I reached out to a number of hospitals. This is no nonprofit, no program, just really an idea. I said, “I’d love to partner these kids up with Navy Seals, give them a mentor, basically a mentor that could kind of help navigate them through this in life and be there for them. Provide those skills. But I want to do it and I want to give them some skills through rock climbing. And for me, rock climbing taught us a lot about life. There’s overcoming fears of starting a new challenge. For them, it could be, most of them it’s rock climbing for the first time. Just like when you’re starting that year battle against cancer or whatever your new challenge is in life, you have this monumental hurdle and there’s an immense amount of fear of just kind of taking that first step.
And then we talk about setting goals and not getting overwhelmed about this huge mound or this huge rock that you need to climb. It’s taking one hand and one foothold at a time. Or the direction you think you’re going to take in life, the route that you think you’re going to take, and the route that you actually take is usually two different things. And that’s 100% just like in life. It’s like the pathway that we think we’re going to go on and we end up taking are almost always different. And the biggest part, and then it’s trust. And when we bring these kids out climbing, for one, they’re meeting a complete stranger for the first time. We do things like workbooks, and we get, there’s little surveys and questionnaires that we go to kind of educate on both sides, so it’s not a complete cold start.
But for the most part, they’re coming in and they’re meeting a complete stranger. And that complete stranger is within 15, 20 minutes is showing you your life-saving gear, your harness and your ropes and how this whole process will work. And there’s an immense amount of trust that happens. And I think that’s indicative of for one, when you’re going through battling cancer, there’s immense amount of trust that you have to have, like your parents and the healthcare workers and the aides that are there. And I’ve been lucky with One Summit. I have a tremendous amount of people that have got behind it and the impact has, truthfully it’s, I knew something special was going to come out of it. But I’m blown away every day about the stories that we hear.
Brett McKay: And I’m sure there’s tons of them, but is there a few that stand out to you of how not only, have the lives of these kids been changed, but also the Seals too.
Adam La Reau: Yeah. There’s one in particular that stands out. This one kid that was, one little warrior there that was battling cancer for quite a bit of time. There’s highs and lows. It goes through remission. It comes back. And just continue to battle over and over again. And he was going into taking the ride like he normally did with his father into getting another brain scan. He had brain cancer. And he was coming in there and he turned to his dad in the car ride, and he said, “You know Dad, I hope this tumor grows.” And basically, what his dad described to us was like he was saying, “I’ve fought this fight long enough. I’m tired.” So, you can only imagine what that would be to hear that as a father. Could not even imagine, right?
So, he goes in and he comes across this flier there for One Summit. And he comes back and he ends of reaching out to us. And there’s an application process. And he comes through, and by the way, we didn’t even know that this part of this story beforehand. Comes through our program, and just I guess it gave him a second wind. It put him, it made him a kid again, got him back up on the wall. He left there thinking he had superpowers. Right? And so sometimes it’s all about, there’s certain things that you just obviously with the treatment and cancer and how aggressive it is and how it attacks some people, there’s certain things you just can’t do anything about, right? But sometimes it’s survival, and sometimes it’s survival between the mind and the body and that connection that’s there. So, that fire that was lit in that child, that little warrior after that, he need up just changing his mindset and battling, and about six, it was about eight or ten months later, hid dad reached out with that story and said, “I can tell you before One Summit he was ready to throw the towel in.” And he told the story. He said, “But after that event and that experience and his work with a mentor,” he’s like, “And by the way, I just want to let you know his tumor just shrunk two millimeters.”
Brett McKay: It’s awesome. And I’m sure these Seals that are involved, it transforms their life too. To see these kids battle.
Adam La Reau: Absolutely, even more so. Really the guys are humbled. I think they’re in awe. I think the kids come in, they think that they’re going to be in awe of us, and that’s their mindset. They’re like, “Oh, I’m meeting a superhero today.” But I can tell you, we learn way more from them. There’s way more impact and inspiration that comes, and they teach us about what resilience and what true toughness really is.
Brett McKay: Is there a way for people who are listening to this show to get involved in the program and help support this? Because I’m sure there’s people who would like to do that.
Adam La Reau: Yeah, sure. It’s onesummit.org. So it’s O-N-E-S-U-M-M-I-T.org. Yeah, and you can get involved in One Summit on org, and then O2X is just o2x.com.
Brett McKay: Well Adam, thanks for coming on. It’s been a great conversation.
Adam La Reau: Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks for having us on, and I do want to let everybody know if anybody that listen to the podcast, they want to access that tactical athlete portal that has the strength and conditioning programs, the nutrition, hundreds of recipes, the mental performance. And it also has like kind of a concierge human performance reach back site and referral there. We’re giving everybody a one free month membership if they put in A-O-M, obviously, and so that’s Alpha, Oscar, Mike there into the promo code, you get one free month. So, happy to give all your guests that.
Brett McKay: Well, thank you very much. We’ll be sure to include that in our show notes.
Adam La Reau: Okay, thank you.
Brett McKay: Thank you. My guest today was Adam La Reau. He’s the founder of O2X, a human performance organization dedicated to training tactical athletes. You can find more information about that at o2x.com. Also check out his nonprofit One Summit that teams up Navy Seals with kids with cancer, takes them rock climbing. Go to onesummit.org to find out about that and find out ways you can get involved with that organization as well.
Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/o2x where you find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. And if you enjoy the show, you’ve got something out of it, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us your view on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.