It’s a state of mind. You may already have it.
No, this isn’t an advert to join the royal marines. Yes it is corny. But I can’t stress just how true it really is.
I had a troubled upbringing. I won’t go into details, but it resulted in me living on the streets some nights, running in fear of my own safety. Nobody to turn to, nowhere to go. No idea of what to do. I had a massive amount of responsibility cast upon me through the very same circumstance.
I had to care for and protect my little brother and raise my little sister, a 6 month old baby, at the tender age of 12, whilst juggling school and trying to still be a kid and do what young teenagers like to do. I could have easily turned to crime and or drugs. I very nearly did, especially during the really tough cold winter nights sleeping in a chicken coup with no food, no certainty, just trying to get through each day.
As soon as I could, I cut all the negative links in my life, kind of a fresh start if you will. It was difficult. But the best most loyal and reliable friends made this easier to cope with, doing what they could when they could to assist me, acts that I am forever grateful of.
I didn't really know my dad growing up. I idolised him. He was a Royal Marines Commando. My nan always told me stories about my dad, the commitments he made, the sacrifices. He was a super hero; super human; I was so proud of him.
Growing up I never thought I could ever emulate his success, but this didn't bother me, I was happy forging my own path, creating my own story. I enjoyed many experiences growing up and had a fantastic friendship circle. I worked hard from an early age and managed to save just enough money to go travelling. I made many long lasting and amazing friends and learnt many life lessons.
Equally I made many mistakes, or displayed trust in the wrong people, and as a result I got bitten. It was tough to rebound from some of these setbacks but you really do bump into some truly amazing people in life. You should never be afraid to share your feelings, your problems, your worries, or your fears. Sometimes they may seem embarrassing or a big issue, but really many people have seen or heard it all before.
So no matter how unique and complicated you think your stress or worries might be, just talk about them get them off your chest and find a way of moving on, after all you can’t influence the past but you can forge your future path. My travels did a lot to forge who I am today, little did I realise i already had the foundations, the raw ability. We all possess a raw ability. You just need to unlock it.
After a lot of work and commitment, I joined the police. With this came a move away from friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the job. It was challenging, varied and my colleagues were exceptional. But there was always one thing in the back of my mind....almost on a weekly basis I would invest time to look at videos, read up on, probe, this 'interest'. I really really wanted to be a Royal Marines Commando.
I always told myself I wasn’t good enough. Wasn’t fit enough. Wasn’t mentally resilient enough.
After all 99.99% need not apply; what makes me think I'm that special 0.01%? I knew I wasn’t.
I was fast approaching the cut off age for applying for the RM, so I made a deal with my inner self. I will attempt selection to become a royal marine’s commando. I had already accepted failure; I had already made peace with myself. I didn't have any regrets or problems if I attempted and failed. It would have at least put that "what if" voice to bed and given me the answer to what I already suspected.
I worked hard preparing my body for the gruelling process that takes nearly 9 months. I've never been the fittest, and due to my age I was on a compressed timeline to make the start date I needed. With this I was met with people doubting me at various stages trying to persuade me elsewhere. Even my own dad told me I was making a mistake leaving a good job with good career prospects and security. I didn't want good...
I pushed on through and made the grade at every level, when I found out i was selected to start training I was ecstatic but also shocked! How could I have done this. It's now real! I was well and truly in shock of capture when training started. The calibre of blokes was phenomenal. I was sure it was a mistake I had been named in the same cohort of such capable and physically fit individuals. I wasn’t going to question it. I was just going to give my everything at every stage.
Training didn't go well for me. My performance was meeting the grade. But my body was struggling. I got injured early on. This was heart breaking. There’s no space for injured blokes, especially early on. Fortunately I was kept on but had to endure a mentally difficult term of rehabilitation whilst watching my friends and peers progress towards the Green Beret. I was told I wouldn't recover in time. One of the things that helped me the most here was a positive outlook. I remained positive, I kept telling myself and them; I will get better and fit in time. I will succeed. This was equally difficult when it came a time that my closest friends were now having 'serious' chats about my future. They honestly expressed they thought I was at the end of the road and I should start looking elsewhere for employment. I resisted. I continued to be positive.
I had a genuine belief I would get healed and fit in good time. If you dwell on a negative thought or experience, it will become you. If you think you are better and be positive, you will become it. Obviously the body is not healed over night, but there is research out there to suggest a positive outlook and not dwelling on an injury accelerated recovery time. During this period I still experienced mixed emotions; Joy for my friends. Sadness and envy, wishing it was me.
I did recover and it was finally test week, the culmination of 8 months of continuous physical training. Although exhausted and fatigued, we now had 4 tests in 4 days stand between us and a green beret, and the right to he called a royal marines commando, and join the family that is the Corps.
I smashed the first test, a 6.5 mile test of endurance in 30lbs of kit. 2.5 miles of crawling through tunnels and navigating waterways and uneven boggy terrain cross country, followed by a 4 mile run back to camp and a 10 round shoot. I was shocked and surprised just how well I performed.
The next day, the legs were heavy. I was sore. I had to ignore the uncomfortable feeling, control the mind. The next day was a 9 mile speed March, predominantly uphill. I was never good at speed marching. I was struggling hard to keep pace at the 3 mile point. I didn't think I was going to make it. The shouts of motivation quietly whispered in your ear from your friends, who are enduring the same physical pain really help to keep me going. On completion we conducted a troop attack. I knew something was wrong. I couldn't put weight through my right foot. Each step was met with a violent stabbing shock that travelled up my body. I knew exactly what it was. I had felt this pain before. I didn't want to admit it, I certainly wasn’t going to flag it up. I had to crack on…
The next day was the Tarzan assault course, a short sharp high obstacle course to be completed in 12 minutes. With my foot poorly strapped with k-tape, a dose of co-codamol and ibuprofen and a shot of SIS Caffeine energy gel for good measure I accepted I was going to endure at least 10 minutes of pain.
I'm not sure if the drugs did the trick, or my mental preparedness had helped, but I managed to get through the course with what I seem to remember as no pain at all. Not until I got my timing from the PTI and told I had passed. Then the pain was obvious, it had worsened.
I couldn't stop now. I couldn't flag it up. The medical professionals would certainly pull me off, and I would likely never get my green beret.
The problem was, one more test stood in my way. A 30 mile cross country run across Dartmoor carrying 35+lbs of kit, self-navigated in 7 hours or less. Fuck. I couldn't help but feel my foot crumble at the thought of it.
I spent that night doing what I could to strap my foot and give it as much support as possible. I packed my secret pockets full of pain killers for the following day and rested.
I spent the night visualising success. I imagined running over that hump bridge with my friends and coming in to applause. The images were vivid. It felt real. I finally awoke. I kept myself to myself. In my own space. I tried to think of nothing. I took my concoction of pills, and hit the start point. I just had to keep going. Just don’t stop.
The only way I was leaving this moor was with a green beret or in the back of an ambulance. There was no in-between. I had to do this.
The pace was quick, the first few checkpoints were exceptionally painful, with lots of elevation gain in a short period and long long legs between checkpoints.
I was struggling, something that was pointed out by several supporting staff at various times. I quickly lost patience and told them to shut up and that I would make it.
Halfway, they make you eat a pasty. This is compulsory. I really didn't want it. My body was screaming for oxygen and relief. Not a burnt pasty! Quickly after ramming it down my neck it came back out twice as quick. Not ideal.
I was coping, regularly sneaking some pain relief in with gulp water. It was doing the trick. I finally ran out. I still had 2 hours to go…
During a long uneven rocky downhill leg, I planted my right foot on a fist shaped rock. My foot flexed around it and with it an audible cracking noise I yelled with agony. Confusion reigned as everyone looked in to see what had happened, not one of us wanting to stop in fear of the clock getting the better of us. As tears rolled down my face and I hopped on, a supporting staff asked what was wrong. I knew instantly that I had truly fucked my foot; I let on as much as I dared, pleading for more pain killers.
I had dropped slightly behind the group. The Sgt responsible for withdrawing individuals was by my side. I could see the next checkpoint. I bargained with the Sgt, asking him not to tell anyone at the CP I was injured. My aim was to play the injury down, get some more pain killers and crack on. I was refused pain relief. The Sgt kept his end of the bargain. I was grateful.
A close friend of mine gripped me. He told me I need to get a grip. Stop whimpering, man up and carry on. Either that or shut up and quit. He didn't beat around the Bush. I was never going to quit. I had to shut up. Put on a brave face and carry on.
It was the longest and most painful 2 hours of my life. I was broken, physically and mentally. I couldn't help but pity myself. Why me. Why now. I was crying softly. Head down, shuffling along. The pain increased with every step.
The last half mile was the worst. There was an extremely steep decline on tarmac. This caused my foot to slap the ground with every step. Following this was more tarmac, the groups pace quickened. I was clinging on. We were pushing the clock now. As a group we would be coming in just short of the 7 hour mark. We had made the most of the time. Unfortunately it was quickly looking like it was running out for me.
I dropped off from the pack. I watched on as they turned a corner at speed, pushing for the finish. I was trying to go as hard as I could. My tank was empty. I almost felt as if I was slowing down. As I turned the corner, one of the lads was stood there. He said he would run the last few hundred meters with me. Verbally he pushed me, drove me. He overrode my pain with motivation and certainty. He made me feel like I could reach the end. Not only was it a fantastic gesture, but he put his own success on the line, pledging he would not leave my side whatever the cost. I now had to do this. How could I ever live with failing myself let alone being the reason for another's shortcomings?
I passed the finish line. Seconds to spare.
I had done it.
It might seem like a long winded account, but it was proof to me of the power of the human mind. This goes with the most recent RM recruitment slogan, "it's a state of mind, you may already have it". And it’s true. And it is corny. But each one of us possesses an inner strength that we doubt, an inner strength that isn’t witnessed often if ever. The body will falter. It will fail. It will break. But there is one thing you can control. Your mind. And if you control that, you can cater for your body’s shortcomings. The mind can eradicate pain. Control fear. Overcome cold, dispel hunger. The mind is limitless. So if there is anything to take away from this it is be bold. Believe. You can do it. No matter what it is your mind can overcome it. It might not always be on your first attempt. It might not come easily. It might be uncomfortable.
My story isn't the only one of positive mind-set conquering all else. I have witnessed many budding marines go through their own difficult journeys. But those who display resilience and determination eventually succeed. And each set back only feeds the fire within.
Life is tough it will bring you down, only if you let it. So no matter your goals your ambitions. Start working towards them today. Believe in yourself.
Accept it won’t be easy. You will find you learn so much about yourself. And trust me, the feeling at the end of it all is priceless, but that feeling only marks the start of your next personal challenge.
I'm going to leave you with a little poem written by Walter D Wintle, titled THINKING.
- Captain, Royal Marine Corps.
If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you dont;
If you'd like to win, but think you can't,
It's almost a cinch you won't.
If you think you'll lose, you're lost,
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellows will,
It's all in the STATE OF MIND.
If you think you're outcasted, you are;
You've got to think high to rise.
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man;
But soon or late the man who wins
Is the man WHO THINKS HE CAN.