Concept2 is proud to support a team of veterans in their effort to complete a 3000-mile trans-Atlantic rowing race while raising funds and awareness for the Big Fish Foundation. The team is called Team Shut Up & Row, and the Big Fish Foundation’s goal is to support all veterans as they navigate the challenges of transitioning back to civilian life. The race is part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge and kicks off from La Gomera, one of Spain's Canary Islands, on December 12, and finishes in Antigua.
We caught up with team member and founder of the Big Fish Foundation Brian (Tosh) Chontosh and asked a few questions about why and how he and his team got on the path to row the Atlantic Ocean.
What inspired you to start down this path you are on? Why the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge?
I was approached by a good friend that a buddy of his was looking for a teammate for a 'crazy adventure' he was planning and if I might be interested. Of course, I'm game for anything that is new, exciting, adventurous, and will challenge me with who I am and who I want to be. So, I accepted the interview. Come to find out my running mate, Chriss Smith, was also on the interview list. At the time, I didn't know about the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, or that this was the crazy adventure the team captain Brian Nicholson had in mind. A couple calls and video chats later I was asked to be on the team along with Chriss. July 12, 2020, Team Shut Up & Row was formed.
How was the team selected? Does each member bring a different strength?
Brian Nicholson and Jim Hein were originally planning on doing this race as a pair. But I think the gravity and financing that this endeavor would invite had them realize they needed to row as a foursome. Brian reached out, and Chriss Smith and my name came up a few times from various points of contact, so we were interviewed. I don't think the team was formed based on individual strengths and competencies at the onset. But over the past 2.5 years of training, it is curious to see how the collaboration of the four of us has evolved. We each bring a bunch of different talents to the table, and we all share a lot of work ethic, team ethos, and respect.
How are you preparing for the day-to-day monotony of a 3000-mile row? Can you describe what a typical day on the water will look like?
The day-to-day monotony/repetitive nature is likely going to be the most challenging mental aspect to manage. Two hours of rowing and two hours of recovery nonstop for 30-plus days. The routine. On the off time, we will have individual tasks, team tasks, and prep for rowing that must be accomplished, so that two hour period of off time gets pretty compressed. Chores like boat maintenance and cleaning, food reorganization, water making, communications, navigating, feeding, and personal hygiene are the top things that will have the greatest frequency.
When did you first hear the name Concept2 or try one of our products?
I've been familiar with Concept2 ever since I was introduced to CrossFit, almost 20 years ago. It is the #1 in the industry. I really started to enjoy rowing and appreciated the benefits to overall fitness while I was on a deployment and used Concept2 RowErgs on the USS Dubuque for six months. Living on a ship, especially an amphibious ship, there are limited opportunities to really tax the body for fitness. I attribute my qualifying for the CrossFit Games in 2009 largely to having access to these RowErgs while underway.
Do you remember your first workout on a Concept2 machine?
I absolutely remember my first workout. It was 2006 and CrossFit founder Greg Glassman was leading a seminar at the Weapons Training Battalion in Quantico. I was asked to attend, and one of the workouts we did was a 1000 meter 'buy in' on the rowing machine. I wanted to put on a demonstration, so I went at it max effort. It was awesome. Then I needed to dig in and learn this new 'device' as a personal mission for the next few months. Been hooked on it ever since.
What does a typical training session for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge look like?
We have Gus Barton (former world record holder for the Talisker) as our rowing strength coach. Ninety percent of our training is based around wattage and heart rates. Long session rows make up the bulk of the program each week (typically a 45 minute row with a 3 minute rest for 3 rounds, or the like). It's gotten to be that a 2-hour row on the erg is mildly interesting. It's not uncommon to pull 25-26k for a 2-hour session at a stroke rate of 18.
What’s your favorite/go-to workout?
I really enjoy rowing a 10k and, at some determined interval (whether time or distance), super set in a bench press, pull up/push up, deadlift, or clean set of reps. I also like 15x400s with 60 seconds of rest between sets.
What trainers or athletes do you look up to?
Ones that have a ton of humility, goodness, and grace—Tia-Clair Toomey, Shane Orr, Rich Froning, Nicole Carroll, Annie Sakamoto, Denise Thomas, Stephane Rochet, Kari Pearce, Eric O'Connor, to name a few.
Who have been your strongest influences in life? What or who inspires you to keep going?
I don't want to suck at life. I desire to be filled with common courtesy, decency, and respect. Those are my guiding themes. I desire so much to be able to influence my children and loved ones to the greatest degree, to guide them towards a rich life of goodness and service. I've been influenced by so many throughout my military career and have been blessed with a lottery ticket of exceptional leaders. Sgt. Moser, Tusipasi Suiaunoa, Dan Healey, Pat Malay, Joe Dunford, Marty Wetterauer, Royal Mortensen, and so many peers and even junior Marines I served. Outside of the military, Bill Henniger and Nicole Carroll, and various authors of amazing literature and great thinkers have had the greatest impact on me. Also, my shortcomings serve as incessant reminders to suck less.
How is Concept2 supporting your effort?
Concept2 has supported me personally for a handful of years with workout routines, technique training and advisement, etc., ever since I met Greg Hammond. He is an incredible ambassador and, along with former CrossFit Rowing coach Jon Burns, I was always taken care of. When I reached out to Concept2 for this adventure there was zero hesitation to support us. We've had custom oars built that will bring an incredible edge to our rowing efficiency while on this race. Proper weight, length, blade surface area, handles, and stiffness were all fine-tuned for us. The Concept2 community in support of us is probably the greatest aspect to any advantage. Having a community behind you and your efforts is that 13th player on the field that goes under appreciated so often.
Can you tell us more about the Big Fish Foundation?
I started the veteran non-profit Big Fish Foundation three years ago after the encouragement of Rogue Fitness owner Bill Henniger to support veterans and impact against veteran suicide and catastrophic decision making. It's given me a tremendous amount of purpose in a way of continued service to others. I just got so fed up with the phone calls notifying me of another veteran suicide. Something that always guided me through the last 30 years of my life is that anyone can have ideas or criticism, but the ones that take action with their ideas are the ones that have a positive effect on the world. So, the Big Fish Foundation provides services and programs to veterans to re-navigate their purpose and bump them forward to live their life despite their demons, frustrations, and military experiences.
What’s the last meal you’ll have before you leave and first meal you will eat when you finish?
Last: A 12-pack of PBR. First: A 30-pack of PBR.