As a writer – the dream is – and always will be, to interview, talk and connect with people who charge my soul. Someone who has lived through dark times but found ways to seek the light even when it’s uncomfortable or scary. Whose face is “marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly” – these are the people that I get up in the morning and am inspired by. Who provide insights and viewpoints that charge all of us, as a society.
Recently – I was lucky enough to spend time with such an individual. You may know him from Survivor Season 44 – but I know him as Danny.
Please welcome one of the most genuine, all around great guy guest we have had the pleasure of speaking with, Danny Massa.
What You Need To Know
- Born and raised in Bronx NY.
- Firefighter for FDNY.
- Believes breathwork can alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression.
Danny was in Austin for a few days participating in various events, one of which was the ‘ultimate survivor’ challenge hosted by sphere.club at Native hostel. I headed over to the event to meet Danny and see him in action.
As I showed up, I was one of the first to arrive and Danny was helping out getting some of the materials and obstacle course activities ready for folks before they showed up – I walked toward him and without hesitation he said, “Hey what’s up man I’m Danny!” – I accepted his energetic greeting and said hello back and soon enough, the event kicked off.
From spinning plank walks to puzzle courses to blind folded cold plunge obstacle courses – it was action packed. As I watched on, I noticed that Danny was interacting with every single person he could. Walking up, saying hello to people – his infectious energy could be felt from all corners.
As the event closed – Tanner and spoke with Danny and said “Dude, we’d love to squeeze in a photo shoot and tell your story – you game?” Without any half second hesitation, Danny replied “Of course thank you so much that would be great!” – the guy is truly a ‘yes man’.
Fast forward to the following day – Danny and I snagged time together at his hotel and got into it.
“I grew up in Throggs neck – a section of the Bronx in New York City. We were a middle class mix of cultures. My Dad was a fireman, and my mom was an office manager for a doctor’s office.” Danny explained. “I saw a lot growing up in the Bronx! It wasn’t until I traveled the world a bit to know that it wasn’t like this everywhere – but honestly my parents were super loving and supportive, and we lived in a good neighborhood. It was great growing up around my dad who used to take me to softball games, and I’d always ask – Dad, who are you playing against? Well son we are playing another firehouse – then I’d ask – well, if all the firefighters are here who is going to put out the fires?!” We both laugh out loud.
As Danny speaks – it’s hard not to notice and feel how genuine of a human he is – his energetic exuberance is something that hits you deep in the fiber.
“When I was in high school – I was insecure, I was chubby and just didn’t feel comfortable. In addition to feeling out of place among my peers, I also I felt like the coursework was so dumb to be honest man” Danny laughs. “I thought, I’m never going to use this stuff in the real world – I gravitated towards reading and writing and that’s what I really want people to know – whatever is calling or pulling you, you need to give that your attention.”
Danny leans forward, with anticipation.
“But after high school, something I never thought would happen, happened – my parents got divorced.” Danny describes. “It felt like the foundation had been ripped out – It was such an eight-year-old type of problem! But it really bummed me out.”
Thought Danny is describing something that no child, regardless of age should have to go through – his optimistic deposition still holds, unwavering.
“Thankfully around this time, I found martial arts– and this really gave me a tool to combat some of that insecurity I was dealing with from high school – but also allowed me to burry my energy from my parents split towards and outlet. I had a real fight to channel my energy towards and the world started to slow down.”
But the day is darkest before the dawn, and things would get worse before getting better.
“I was having some depression from my parents splitting and was using un-healthy outlets while I was still in college. Know what’s better than feeling terrible? Feeling nothing. I turned xanax and substances as an outlet – but I thought, I’m an MMA athlete I can’t have a drug problem, right? In all reality though – I had a massive problem.”
Things start to spiral.
“One night I was at college and went to one room and did drugs, then went to another room and drank pretty heavily which ultimately led to a respiratory arrest – Some of the college guys I was with were scared to call for help, thankfully my cousin Joey saved my life by telling them to get off their ass and call 911.” Danny, for the first time in our talk becomes visibly serious.
“After this my mom begged me to go to a phycologist and various doctors, which I did – but you wanna know the funny thing? They just prescribed me more drugs! I didn’t trust the doctor – and again, another life lesson – if something doesn’t feel right in your gut, don’t do it. Thankfully, I was able to catch my addiction early enough where I didn’t have to use any programs to get me thru it.”
From here, Danny doubled down on diving deeper into his passions and becoming extremely task oriented.
“I really fell in love with the uncomfortable. I dug deep on my passions, became task oriented and learned that I needed to screw up big time to re-center myself. You know, I never was able to piece all of this together until speaking with you now – just leaning into discomfort and doing crazy, healthy things is huge for growth. One time I thought, what would it be like to go run barefoot in the snow for as long as a I could go? And you know what, I did it – and found the more I leaned in, the more happy I was – disconnection from anything traditional has accelerated my growth as a person.”
But it’s not all physical, in fact – mostly everything is in your head.
“I was training for a fight one time and setup an ice bath for myself and stayed in for 7 seconds – then I realized I was relying on my ego – I thought, I can just jump in and stay in this uncomfortable environment because I’m a MMA fighter but man was I wrong! I didn’t know how to breathe and had to re-program my thinking from this moment onward.” Danny explains.
We pivot – moving on to FNDY and The Survivor.
“After college, I spent time as a teacher at an MMA gym then applied for an EMS position to start the journey of becoming a New York Firefighter.” Danny leans in. “Ultimately, I was able to move into the FDNY when I was 24 – I love being able to show up when shit is the absolute worst and be that person who will look at you and say, ‘everything WILL be alright’. I feel like it’s a gift that I’ve been given with all the shit I’ve seen in my life to keep things level and not show that – I too, inside, am just as scared at times.”
Danny starts to reflect deeper.
“You know, I thought I had the big pictures figured out – but now I see looking back I didn’t – I was looking at the story of my life and asked? Do I like this main character? I didn’t.” Danny details. “Joe Rogan said on one of his podcasts ‘look at your life like you’re the main character of your story – do you like the person you see? Are you the good guy?’ – at that moment, I knew I wasn’t the good guy in the story and I wanted to be.”
This pivotal yet simplistic realization altered the course of Danny’s life like he could never imagine.
“From here, I started getting deep into mediation and breath work – I became a better fireman, a better person, more compassionate and more patient. I came across James Nester which then led me to Liard Hamilton after I listed to him on JRE – they were talking about Belisa Vranich and I said I need to connect with her. I found her information online, reached out, signed up and became a certified breath coach. I became obsessed with the knowledge she gave me – I could see people dying of thirst when it came to breathing – most of us are doing it wrong and knew I wanted to help. Have anxiety? Depressed? If you start to fix your breathing – it won’t fix everything 100%, but it will make everything that sucks, suck less – and make everything that’s great, even that much better.”
What an eye-opening concept – take something unconscious like breathing – apply technique and consciousness to it and open gateways to decreased stress, depression, and anxiety. If we question more of the unconsciousness areas of our life, and shine light to them – what else could we change for the better? It’s essential to embrace this idea to channel our inner survivor spirit.
Speaking of Survivor…this story you’re about to hear is so incredible. Check this out.
“My sister and brother-in-law were trying so hard to have baby. Test after test, try after try – nothing. So, they said, where are the kids who are in most need of a family and ultimately traveled to Hatti and adopted a boy. While there, my brother-in-law interacted with a girl and started playing catch with her – my sister saw what was coming! My brother-in-law looked at my sister and said “Go big or go home right?!” We both laugh. “So the crazy part is this, man – once the adoption papers were finalized and they were traveling back to the States – my sister started feeling really sick. But guess what it was?”
I paused not knowing how to respond – Danny’s face, grinning ear to ear – anticipation in the air.
“SHE WAS PREGNANT!” – I’m stopped in my tracks, what a story! What are the odds?!
The conversation takes a turn, in an unexpected direction.
“But some of this excitement was short lived – two years after the adoption my brother in law was diagnosed with terminal cancer…” The excitement and energy is sucked out of the room. “He ultimately passed – but one of the things he and my sister loved to watch was Survivor. After his passing, my sister couldn’t watch it anymore as it was too painful. When they did watch it however, you would think the cast was a member of their family – it was awesome to see.” Danny explains.
Then – new life breeds new life.
“However, my nieces and nephews really started to get into the show – following their parents love and legacy. The kids would come up and always say ‘YOU HAVE TO DO IT UNKY!’ – I was like, sign me up! So, my niece helped me make the audition video, edited the content, filled out the application and sent it in – and guess what, CBS called and said, ‘you’re in!’.
What a story. What a family. What a journey.
We close, in typical fashion – advice.
“Growing up – my dad used to tell me ‘you’re the best part of my day’ and now that I’m a father – I see what he means in full circle, and I’m so excited to share that with my daughter. I think it’s important that people express their feelings in this way” Danny describes with a twinkle in his eye.
“True happiness man, it requires you to be vulnerable – to experience bliss you must embrace the uncomfortable. There’s no free lunch. It’s okay to live in this un-comfort – it’s a conscious choice, and a healthy choice.” Danny smiles.
As we close, I’m reminded of one my favorite things to do when writing – quote someone great who has lived before us, with inspiration, imagination, and integrity. Danny chose to close out our interview in a similar fashion by saying:
“I always remind myself of what Ralph Waldo Emerson said.” Danny leans forward, towards me – with direct eye contact and energy.
“He said ‘To know one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.’ I always remind myself of that” Danny leans back, smiling with content.
Life provides ironic occurrence for us to experience from time to time. Danny never stopped breathing when was a kid and chubby or felt out of place. He never stopped breathing when he almost died in college. He never stopped breathing when on the job as a firefighter. He never stopped breathing when he was on Survivor, inspiring the world with his infectious energetic spirit.
But it’s not just breathing, it’s how you breathe – just like we all have a life to live, how we choose to live it depends on the level of consciousness we give the unconscious.
Danny is on a mission to give all of us the power to breathe easier, and I think he’ll succeed.
As I walk out of the hotel, I start to focus on my own breath – feeling lighter, less anxious, and more comfortable in who I am, finding comfort in the discomfort – and knowing, if I can breathe better – the flame of the torch that is our life, will never be extinguished.