Why did you sign up for this show?
As I was going through the process of the show, I was asking myself the same thing over and over! It was pretty brutal, but, to be honest, it was an opportunity of a lifetime. I grew up with a lot of my friends joining the army at the age of 15, 16, and so on, and that's what I wanted to do as well. I had a specific interest in the army. Then, unfortunately, with my disability, that option isn't available to me in the role I would have wanted. So when this opportunity came, I was like, "Yes, I get to actually do something I was never allowed to do." I was never allowed the opportunity to do it, so of course I was going to take it with both hands. What I didn't realise is how hard it was going to be.
Lauren Steadman is another para-athlete who has done the show last time and she was very clear that it was not going to hold her back, did you have any concerns going into the course that your disability might hold you back in any way?
I’m a big fan of the show and I know Lauren. I met her in Rio and I saw her do it. I looked at the things that she struggled at and I thought, "Yeah, I can do that. I can do that." I think the thing I was very worried about is I am an 18 stone shot putter. There's no hiding that! I do field athletics. There's a reason I do field, is because I don't want to be anywhere near the track. I don't want to run. So for me, all I was thinking was I going to struggle with the stamina side of the course because I'm built for power and explosive action not long distances.
How important was it for you that the DS didn’t accommodate your disability and just treated you like everyone else?
Oh, 100%. I think a huge part of why I do para-sport and my role is to inspire lines of equality. For me, going in there, I'm a big guy and, like I said, I do hide my disability very, very well because I always want to be treated equal. There wasn't an option of whether I wanted to sit one challenge out or not. It was everything, I was pushed and pushed and pushed.
How did you feel when you saw who would be on the course with you?
I always put myself down. I'm a very deep thinker, and the DS pointed that out to me. They said I underestimate myself and I put myself down, I'm very harsh on myself. For me it was like, "Right, I want to keep up with these guys." I instantly thought that everyone there was going to be better than me. I knew that I was always going to be at a disadvantage in more than one way.
What was it like having to tight rope walk across a ravine?
Oh, that was so infuriating, because that's the thing, you need an equal distribution between your legs to get across that, and me, I weight-bear on my left. Everything goes left because I’ve got a good left leg. My left leg, my left side's strong, so that is where I was really getting infuriated. But what I was surprised at, and what I learned from, for example, that task, the DS, they loved the fact that I was angry, I was disappointed in myself, and I wanted to be better. I was hungry for more, do you know what I mean?
What was it like being gassed during the hostage rescue challenge?
What an experience! At the time it was agony, but I feel almost lucky that I got that opportunity. There's a lot of cardio beforehand, a lot of running up and down, press ups, and then you stop and then Ant's like, "This is the task…” I remember going in, but as I'm going in, I'm already absolutely out of breath. I'm sweating, I thought, "Oh, it'll be a mask on, get the guy out, the hostage out. Whether it's a man or woman, not sure. Get them out and that's the task.” Obviously, it unfolds very differently. Get in there, take the mask off. You're inhaling it. It's almost like being in a very, very smoky room. You can feel it in your lungs. You can feel it going down your throat. Then I would say after a few seconds it starts to burn. It really starts to burn. It's almost like someone's lit a fire inside you and it's kind of coming up and pushing all the fluids out of your eyes, your nose, your ears. You get outside and obviously you scream, drop to your knees. It's almost like a scene from Platoon. I can't even describe the pain where it's a burn from the inside and there's nothing you can do apart from just sit there and naturally let your body detox and push everything out. I tell you what, if anyone throws any CS gas near me, I know where I'll be running!
There were so many challenges that were water based this year, how did you find that?
Yeah, I don't mind the water. Swimming's not a problem. Swimming in all my clothes and boots and that, now that is tough. The diving challenge for me, though, was the coldest experience. I've never been so cold that I haven't been able to hold my breath. I found that when I was diving down to get the chest I couldn't hold my breath. I was getting an anxiety attack with the cold trying to do things under the water. I was so frustrated.