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Big Lessons From Big Fish - Tough Guys In Tears

events Jun 13, 2023

While the idea's hot and the emotion is high, I'm typing this one up!

We just spent four days cooking from a tent in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado.

I learn something every time I cook and I want to share a few of the takeaways from my time spent at the Fourth Annual Big Fish Foundation Fundraiser.

Where to start...

This was an emotional experience.

On the flight home, I wrote 17 quick stanzas of poetry. While they don't all flow together, here are a few to sum up some of the feelings:

We cooked tacos and burgers

And chili and steaks.

We overlooked some stuff

And made some mistakes.


Early mornings and late nights

Make for little rest.

It becomes a challenge when tired

To give your best.


You feel sorry for yourself

You feel desperate and poor

You feel the enemy wedge

His foot in your door.


Then the battle begins

To keep the fire burning.

To cook your best

And to keep on learning.


Get into tough situations,

Things you don't want to do.

Then learn that the best way out

Is through.

This was our third year cooking for the event. Here are a few facts about Big Fish:

  • It exists to help prevent veteran suicide by challenging, empowering and inspiring Veterans to live meaningful, purpose-driven lives.
  • I asked Brian Chontosh, the founder, how Big Fish achieves this. He said, "It provides a community and a connection and gives Vets a sense of purpose." 
  • They will reach over 400 Veterans this year and plan to double that number by the end of 2025. 

Another stanza I wrote was:

Bringing hope and connection

To Vets in need.

Can you see Big Fish

Is gaining speed?

It was easy for me to see the growth from the kitchen as there were nearly twice as many mouths to feed.

Hungry mouths, too!!! Here are some of them who stuck close on taco night. Bottomless tacos is a good way to kick things off!

Why am I writing this?

I titled it 'Tough Guys In Tears' because while there are a lot of tough people at this event, most end up in tears at the final ceremony.

Julian Alcarez won the Athlete portion of the 30 hour challenge and when he went up to accept his award, he mentioned vulnerability.

He talked about being tough and having an ego and not wanting to ask for help. The nature of the event is that each person eventually has to ask for help. It is so hard, that individuals rely on others to find success. He described it as a liberating experience. 

Tosh often talks about how asking for help is actually giving a gift to the one you are asking. You are giving them the gift of the opportunity to help you. This trip he said (half jokingly) that sometimes he asks for help when he doesn't really need it just so that he can stay in the practice of vulnerability. 

In transparency, after doing this event last year, I swore I would not do it again. 

While the participants endure a 30 hour challenge, the kitchen sees a relentless 90 hours with little sleep and constant work. 

In Proverbs 25:15 it says, "through patience a ruler can be persuaded". I'm not saying that I am a ruler, but time did its thing and I agreed to come back.

However, I returned to the same head space this year.

Check these stanzas:

My thinking goes wrong

As the sun comes up.

I depend on "The Rock" alone

To fill my cup.


He splits the sea

So I can walk right through it

What seems impossible

He helps me do it.

Each day I followed my anchor routine of devotion and Bible reading.

By Saturday and early Sunday, I was pushing through each minute, not seeing the end, but simply taking the next step.

Isn't that how all hard things are? 

You hate them when you are in them because they stretch you and teach you and try to break you.

Sounds like growth to me...

In the end, I made it through. 

I leaned on the people around me to help me through the difficulties.

On one of the occasions that I made it down to the house to hear Tosh talk, he was telling everyone that being tired is, "an opportunity for the enemy." 

You can let him in

And with your thoughts he will play.

Or you can slam the door

And say, "Not Today!"

I wish I could tell you that I locked the door, but that would be a lie.

I'll be back next year

But sometimes I wish 

That Tosh hadn't created

Such a Big Fish.

I'll wrap by saying that Tough Guys in Tears is a beautiful thing - guys so tough that they can be vulnerable are my kind of guys.

A huge thanks to my right-hand-man, Arturo, for pushing me through and to Giancarlo Graziani for stepping up to lend a hand. I couldn't have done it without them.

And for the final stanza:

I hope that the wind is always at your back

And the forecast is breezy

When you're with the right people

Even hard times are easy.

Hold Fast.

Your Pal,

Paleo Nick

PS: If you'd consider donating to The Big Fish Foundation, even $25 would go a long way. I can vouch for the program and assure you that your dollars will be put to good use!

PSS: Having endured, the return home was extra special.