Team Shut Up & Row Goes the Distance
Back in November 2022, we wrote about Team Shut Up & Row as they were preparing to row across the Atlantic as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. We were so proud to support their 3000-mile trans-Atlantic race with the goal of raising funds and awareness for the Big Fish Foundation. It took 33 days, 17 hours and 38 minutes to complete their journey, crossing the finish line in Antigua in the early hours of the morning and reuniting with their families. We sat down with Brian (Tosh) Chontosh to chat about their incredible feat, the Big Fish Foundation, as well as physical and mental health.
Tosh and the team tackled this endeavor with the goal to win, and to raise money for the Big Fish Foundation, an organization that supports veterans as they transition back to civilian life. “I would like to impact against veteran suicide in a positive way," said Tosh. "We bring veterans in to create connection, conversation, and recalibrate how they're processing civilian life or being outside active-duty life.” The Big Fish Foundation helps veterans find purpose and connection, resulting in improved mental health and well-being.
Back in our cubicles in Vermont, we watched live trackers and followed the social media of their journey. The detailed updates kept us on our toes, especially as they started the race off right where they wanted to be, in first place. The team was amazing to follow and performed well despite the conditions and unforeseen obstacles. The four veterans worked together to overcome issues with the auto-tiller, and losing a battery, which crippled their electrical operations, including water making.
Tosh reinforced that a challenge may become harder, but you can't change your end goal just because of obstacles. The obstacles “just mess with some people’s head more than others. You can’t move the goal post,” says Tosh. When asked if it affected them Tosh replied, “Unfortunately, it did. It shouldn’t have. It was a very small [loss of time] over 33 days. We might have lost 5 or 6 hours between the auto-tiller and the batteries over hundreds of hours. We worked so well as a team through those challenges.” He recounted that the Spanish team had a 13-hour shutdown that put them in a place where making up the time seemed next to impossible, yet they went on to win the race.
While their physical effort was described as “brute force and ignorance,” this team had skills in problem solving, trust, communication, self-management of emotions, and processing anxiety in the moment. Time moves at a different speed in the Atlantic—changes in the waves, wind or sky may occur slowly over hours, instead of seconds when you’re on a road or path. The sea is ever-changing, with 30-foot waves leaving the team looking at the sky one moment, and directly down at the ocean the next. They shared everything from silly stories to intimate conversation to complete silence for hours on end, and ended up in 6th place, with the fastest ever American four-person time.
Tosh notes that when coming home from service it can be easy to focus on the differences in civilian life. “If you’re looking for differences, you’re going to find differences, which feeds the frustration. Look for similarities.” Tosh went on to say that “in physical activity you tend to look for similarities when doing a collaborative event. We’re social creatures by nature. Camaraderie is a more intimate form of a social connection, combining connection with a physical challenge and working together to overcome a hardship.” This combination of finding purpose, building connections and taking part in physical activities can be beneficial for anyone, across the board. “It doesn’t have to be rowing across the ocean, or something big, it can be going for a walk.” When asked for advice for someone who’s looking to get into exercise, Tosh replied, "Just start. Try to escape comparison to others or to yourself on where you want to be. Do the next right thing, take one more step, divorce yourself from judgement.”
At Concept2 we frequently share records, athletic achievements, and extraordinary feats, but we want to value the importance of someone getting on a RowErg or stepping into a gym for the first time. Those goals and movements towards bettering oneself are unbelievably important steps and need to be recognized and celebrated.
We hear so many stories about the mental health benefits from exercise and hope that it can play a positive role in your own journey.
For so many of us at Concept2, the positive effects of a good workout go beyond the purely physical benefits. During Mental Health Awareness Month, we're taking the opportunity to talk about how taking care of our physical health can also improve our mental health.
Related: Chasing PRs and Finding Purpose