Photo courtesy of Jason Rizzo

The South Daytona firefighters pictured with Jason Rizzo are (left to right) Michael Gagel, Spencer Dennis and Lt. Chad Kirby. They participated with him in his 25 pushups in 25 days challenge for mental health awareness especially PTSD and suicide prevention.

Social media is ablaze with people across the nation and the world dropping down and doing 25 push-ups while being filmed.

The idea is you do 25 push-ups a day for 25 days to raise awareness for mental health. Each day, you in turn nominate someone to start the challenge themselves.

The rules are simple: Once you are nominated, your 25 days starts the following day. Every day you record yourself doing 25 push-ups, even if you have to drop to your knees to get 25. Every day you must nominate a different person.

Port Orange resident Jason Rizzo, 40, is taking on the challenge in a big way.

Nominated by his friend Veronica Bell, since Sept. 17 Mr. Rizzo has been showing up daily throughout Volusia County challenging veterans, police officers, firefighters and others to accompany him in his mission of 25 push-ups in 25 days. He is especially interested in raising awareness about depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide prevention.

His path to giving back wasn’t an easy one. He served time in prison and was in a dark period in his life. He got a job delivering ice one year ago and often works seven days a week. But he was always a fitness buff and approached his boss with the idea to turn the warehouse after work into a place where they could do some circuit training. What started out as himself, his boss and a co-worker working out morphed into a weekly type of boot camp where others began coming to work out too. From the warehouse, “Warhouse” was born. It was also where he did his first challenge push-ups with others he trains with.

He describes the physical training as intense military style. But he is passionate that the mind training that comes with it is what brings about change in people and thus his branding of Warhouse and his mission to gather people together for a common good.

“The Warhouse isn’t a place that you work out at, the Warhouse can be anywhere. The Warhouse is in your mind. It’s anywhere you’re faced with adversity, anytime you are put under pressure. That’s when you go to that Warhouse,” he said. “Everybody has a warrior in a chamber in their mind and it’s blocked, it’s guarded by fears, doubts, insecurities. To get to that warrior, to let him out, you have to confront those fears, those doubts and those insecurities. That (dark) place was the perfect training ground to build fortitude. I was forged in that fire.”

Warehouse does take courage, Mr. Rizzo said. But, “Everybody is capable of doing great things. Everybody is capable of accomplishing whatever they want to do in life. The only thing that’s holding them back is their fears, their insecurities. When people have the courage to confront those things, anything is possible.”

He emphasized it helped that his mother and brother never gave up on him and always showed him love. His father, Charlie Rizzo, who died in 2017, was a well-known college football coach.

The weekly two-hour workouts are grueling, but Mr. Rizzo emphasizes all the will power spent in these workouts will spill out into ways to live a happier life.

After the workouts, everybody circles up and talks about life issues, he said. What started with negative commentary from participants after several weeks of workouts started changing to empowering statements.

A 10-minute conversation with a childhood friend after he left prison left him with a rediscovered internal energy that would change his life and his perspective on everything, including losing a victim mentality. “If a 10-minute conversation can change the course of my life, a one-minute video can get someone through another day.”

He posts the videos daily of wherever the push-ups take him.

Mr. Rizzo has personally known a dozen people that have committed suicide, and knows people with PTSD. He contemplated suicide himself. But he found hope and that is what he tries to portray through everything he does now including the push-up challenge. He selected first responders for the challenge because they deal with PTSD at a higher rate than many other professions and they also have higher suicide rates.

Lt. Chad Kirby, a paramedic, has been with the South Daytona Fire Department almost 10 years and, along with two colleagues, joined Mr. Rizzo in his push-ups Sept. 29.

“It was an honor to help him promote suicide awareness,” Lt. Kirby said. “First responders, and anybody for that matter, need to know they have someone to talk to. I think it’s a good thing that he is going around and getting first responders and getting people that might be a little more exposed to some things.”

He added they were able to all do the push-ups because with carrying around 75-80 pounds of bunker gear they need to “stay in pretty good shape!”

For help with mental health, SMA Healthcare has a 24-hour helpline at (800) 539-4228.

For more about Mr. Rizzo, visit his Facebook page at facebook.com/jason.rizzo.965.

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