Profession: Business Development Manager
In 2000, at the age of 21, Carla sailed across the Atlantic in an 80ft ketch. She’s always been driven and went on to compete in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 as a GB rower.
Mum of four, Carla found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with triple negative invasive breast cancer for which she started treatment at the beginning of December 2018. She had 16 sessions of chemo. She watched the last series of SAS: Who Dares Wins during her chemo sessions and was motivated to take part in the next one.
Tell me about your experience on SAS: Who Dares Wins?
SAS: Who Dares Wins was easily one of the most incredible experiences of my life, a chance to be Carla, not Carla the mum, not Carla the sister and Carer, not Carla the Business Development Manager, not Carla the rower, just Carla - whole heartedly, it was a chance to meet new people, challenge myself physically and mentally with no distractions. I feel like I’ve tapped into a side of me which I’ve never seen before. I overcame my fear of open water, my fear of jumping into water. I entered SAS: Who Dares Wins to drive my recovery from cancer treatment. SAS: Who Dares Wins managed to not only do this but it surpassed all of my expectations, I’ve made new friends for life and I will always relish the once in a lifetime opportunities it gave me.
Did you find it difficult? Was it more difficult than you expected?
Post chemotherapy I was a broken soul, I had trained throughout chemo, but more to keep mentally alive than to make any physical gains. The time period between the end of my treatment (chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy) and the SAS course was tight. I pushed myself as hard as I physically could, but invariably I knew I was entering the show with some huge areas of weakness. I was absolutely ready for the challenge but was under no illusions that it would be a breeze. From day one, the intensity hit me hard and my body took a real battering…but I relished the opportunity. It felt like my old training days and I loved every minute. I found it incredibly physically demanding, but I loved the challenge, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Were you surprised to find out this course was taking place in the home of the SAS – Scotland?
In all honestly, I wasn’t hugely surprised, I was grateful. I had been hoping and praying it would be Scotland, Wales or Scandinavia. I knew the best environment for me would be cold, damp and dreary and that’s exactly what we got!
How did you cope with the harsh Scottish weather conditions? Did the weather play a part in how hard you found the course?
No, the weather actually played to my strength. I am a strong build and have always managed well in the cold. Reversely, I am terrible in heat, so even when I was cold, constantly wet and I was starting to turn grumpy, I’d give myself a pinch to remind myself I wasn’t dealing with 80% humidity in the jungle where I would have had real issues.
Did spending so much time in freezing water make the course more difficult for you?
Having spent years happily on top of the water in a rowing boat, I’ve actually always been afraid of open water swimming but on the course I found a whole new Carla. Every time we got in the water, I thought about Sarah Thomas, who swam the Channel four times non-stop only a couple of weeks before the SAS: Who Dares Wins course started. Coincidentally, Sarah had also been diagnosed with Breast cancer last year. She had trained through her treatment. I found so many parallels with her, and she is a total inspiration. Every time I entered the water, all I could think was …'if Sarah can swim non-stop across the channel for 52 hours, I can stay in this water for as long as I am asked’
You were the first recruits to take part in weapons training. How did you find that?
I absolutely loved weapons training, the shooting scenario was full on. It started with me tripping over a rock and dramatically face planting at Ollie’s feet, much to my dismay! This was prior to having a mask pulled over my head and being dragged down a steep hill. It was totally disorientating, but once handed the gun, my natural instinct was to gain a full grasp of my surroundings and control the controllables, having Billy screaming in my ear, loud bangs, smoke billowing and a man running towards me with a gun somehow didn’t faze me....I seem to work well in chaos....I put this down to the crazy juggle at home with my four little ones!
Have you ever done anything like this before?
The only thing I can liken the experience to is training for the Olympics. One finite goal to focus on, one singular purpose - being selected for Beijing Olympics and competing at the pinnacle of my sport. Applying and being selected for SAS: Who Dares Wins had similar parallels. Each day I knew my goal was to do the basics well, have my bag ready and squared away, stay on top of my nutrition and hydration, working in unison with my teammates towards a common goal, whilst being single minded in my pursuit to successfully complete every task.
What made you sign up?
October 2018 I found a lump on my chest. Within three weeks I’d been diagnosed with Triple Negative Invasive Breast cancer. Pre-lump, I had never felt better. Four healthy young kids, I’d started an incredible job three weeks prior to finding the tumour and in the blink of an eye, our world was spun upside down. The realisation that I would need to be broken (chemo, surgery and radiotherapy) in order to be ‘fixed’ and attempt to abolish the cancer was a total head spin. I needed a goal to focus on beyond cancer. Cancer consumes your whole world – your time, the way people interact with you, your mood, your mental health, your physical wellbeing, your get up and go…..all I wanted was to get back to Pre-Chemo Carla as quickly as possible. Whilst going through chemo and watching the last series of SAS: Who Dares Wins, a particular scene jumped out at me, where one of the female recruits dived under the ice cold water and all I could think was ‘ if I can get through this treatment and wearing the ice cap through chemotherapy (to help keep my hair), I could do that’. I set myself a goal that night to become an SAS: Who Dares Wins recruit, and I’d chip away week by week, treatment by treatment, training when able, in order to reach that goal. Turns out that was the best decision ever, it aided my recovery no end and has given me one of the best experiences of my life.
What training did you do in preparation for this course?
During chemotherapy, I tried to go to the Crossfit gym twice a week. Sometimes I just couldn’t drag myself there. My motivation was almost at rock bottom, but the slight glint of SAS: Who Dares Wins opportunity kept me going when my body wasn’t totally broken. Being in the gym with the music blaring was so cathartic. For that single hour, no one would mention cancer, no one would talk about treatment or how I was feeling, no one would give me the puppy dog eyes that I’d receive everywhere outside the gym from concerned family and friends. I’d just rock up, crack on with the session to the best of my ability - even if that meant lifting half my normal weight and going at half my normal speed! My chemotherapy sessions took place on the 15th floor of the hospital, from my first chemo session to my last (16 in total), I walked up those 15 flights of stairs…..it could take anything from 4 min 10 sec – 6 min 30 sec on a bad day.
After my surgery I wasn’t allowed to run or do any pressing motion for six weeks, so I spent a fair amount of time on the static bike and slowly building up my weights again. Finally, during my four weeks of daily radiotherapy, I cycled to the hospital each day (13 mile round trip), in addition to Crossfit training five times a week. The last stint between the end of treatment and the course, I was attempting to train nine times a week – a mixture of running sessions and Crossfit.
Now that you have this experience, would you like to join the real Special Forces?
Four young kids, full time carer for my sister and a full time job…..I already feel like I am part of a military operation but I can totally imagine if I was in my 20’s, it would have been a viable option.
What was the best part of the series for you?
The team log carry was right up my street, endurance personified. For most of the group, that was their worst day, but I loved it. Give me a load and asked me to move it over a long distance for a sustained period of time and I’ll be in my element. The abseil was equally amazing. I was fully immersed in each task and the fear and anxiety just fell by the wayside – it was super empowering.
Do you think you found it harder than the male recruits?
Absolutely not, I played to my strengths and then hung on during the tasks that proved more physically challenging. It was swings and roundabouts, each recruit struggled with different aspects of the course, devoid of whether they were male or female.
You had to share all your space with men for the whole time you were there, including sleeping and toilets. How did you find that?
Not a problem, my home life is crazy, with kids running around in a constant state of chaos. I could probably count on both hands how many nights I’ve had a full night’s sleep in the last nine years. I can sleep anywhere and will happily just get on with whatever is required of me to get the job done!
Were you surprised to find one of your ‘fellow recruits’ was a mole?
As soon as Jay was revealed it all made sense, he was incredible from the get go!!
Did getting to know Jay as a recruit make it difficult for you to have the same respect for him once he became one of the DS?
Not particularly, based on his performance as a recruit, instant respect was easy to give. He also quietly gave me some encouragement during a couple of beastings and a small wry smile, I knew he felt our pain but equally he was trying to capture the best of each and every one of us.
What were Ant, Foxy, Ollie, Billy and Jay like?
Jay was an amazing recruit. From the get go I had him marked to finish the course. He always had his bag squared away, bottle filled, buttons done up, wearing the correct kit. On the log carry task, he was exceptional, we were at the front of the log the whole way up the hill and he set such an incredible rhythm, I felt like I was in a rowing boat, pulling away from our competition, it was like someone stripping away 11 years from me, I just loved it. My ankles had started to be really problematic, but he helped me down the hill on our second decent. When we discovered he was the mole, it all seemed to fit into place, it all made sense, he rocked being a member of the DS, a steely glaze, commanding respect with a glint in his eye.
Billy has such a quick wit, he’d often be cracking jokes but we were so in the zone and scared of stepping out of line, we never quite knew whether we could actually acknowledge the banter!
Ollie keeps himself to himself and doesn’t give much away.
Foxy occasionally chatted about the Olympics with me and made reference to my age. I felt like there was some common ground as we’re a similar age. I just tried to keep my head down and not draw too much attention to myself!
Ant – man of mystery! He never gives anything away, totally commands respect and is pretty terrifying! One thing I know for sure is that he is so fast at running.
Would you ever do it again?
Absolutely, in the blink of an eye!