“Iron Firefighter” Michael Oyola | Making healthy choices a part of life

South Whidbey Fire/EMS volunteer Michael Oyola lugs his gear on a call. - Contributed photo
South Whidbey Fire/EMS volunteer Michael Oyola lugs his gear on a call.
— image credit: Contributed photo

If there is anyone on Whidbey Island who symbolizes a life in balance, it is volunteer firefighter Michael Oyola. That’s because health and wellness, and giving and receiving, are dear to his heart. His colleagues might describe him as a person who “walks the talk,” and Oyola might agree — especially about the walking part.

As a member of the fire district’s Health and Wellness Committee, he is actively involved with helping fellow first responders make healthy choices that improve their lives. He has helped organize active programs, such as the Iron Firefighter and Take a Hike Fitness challenges. He helps to ensure they are designed to accommodate all levels of fitness and preferences for types of physical activities.

“The important thing is to get moving to counteract sitting all day and night,” said Oyola. “There’s no better place than Whidbey to enjoy the outdoors, fresh air and sunshine.”

He should know. Oyola and his wife Joann moved to Whidbey Island six years ago from Naples, Fla. They were lifelong east coasters, but after they raised their kids, they decided that living on the West Coast was a great way to spend the rest of their lives.

“We looked at several places, but there were things about Whidbey that spoke to us,” said Oyola. “Being organic vegetarians, we liked the community’s small farms and farmers markets. We can walk down the road and get fresh organic eggs from our neighborhood farmer.”

The Oyolas start each day with yoga exercises and katas, along with alternating days of sit-ups, push-ups, running, walking, biking and hiking. They are both martial arts enthusiasts and together are on a journey of earning their black belts in karate. They also are volunteer assistant instructors in the dojo — a Japanese martial arts training location — at Tiger Martial Arts in Freeland. In addition, Michael and Jo are both students with the Institute for Integrated Nutrition, studying wellness and nutrition to become health coaches and nutrition counselors in their new online business, Your Health Buddies. 

They practice Hippocrates’ philosophy of “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” and they believe it’s time for a new approach in health care by using health and nutritional coaching to assist in the prevention and treatment of disease.

Oyola works as an instructor for the Army National Guard, and spends off-hours keeping his classic 1979 MG sports car running and working constantly on the never-ending home improvement “Honey Do” list.

While health and wellness are part of Oyola’s DNA, so is volunteering. He’s been a volunteer firefighter and EMT with South Whidbey Fire/EMS for five years, and has also been involved with the Community Emergency Response Team, Medical Reserve Corps, American Red Cross, Mountaineers, and Washington State Emergency Management Division. He volunteered for one year in the AmeriCorps program for Island County Department of Emergency Management as well. And now his wife has signed up to attend the next Fire Training Academy.

“I live by the belief that whatever you receive or take from the community, you should give back similarly in some way,” said Oyola. “It’s especially important in preserving what is special about the South Whidbey community.”

He encourages people to learn survival skills, how to handle crisis situations and to gain compassion for those in trouble. He says these are skills you can use the rest of your life to help your own family and your neighbors.

“As volunteers, we rise up to help others in their time of need,” he said. “In that role, I think we can be models for the community.”

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