Lessons from an Assault Course


Sitting at dinner one evening I told my parents: "I've been invited to go on a survival weekend with the Territorial Army." I had no intention of going whatsoever, but when they both started laughing I added defiantly "and I'm going".

That was during my schizophrenic teenage years where I was half anxiety and half defiance. The anxiety half had already rejected the invitation, but the defiant half didn't like being laughed at. And so it was that I found myself arriving in a cold wet army base in the middle of nowhere. Later that night, with teeth chattering I lay in my sleeping bag under a broken window and muttered my mantra for the weekend: "I'll bloody show them."

Over the next couple of days I used it often: as I flung myself on my stomach in long wet grass to shoot at "enemy" sacks with hats on. "I'll bloody show them." As I led a team down an old air raid shelter to retrieve a dummy, tripping and stumbling through the dark with no torch and the firm order to use only the backs of our hands to feel our way because it's safer if there are live cables.  "I'll bloody show them."

Hurtling down a zip wire from a window that was way too high for my liking.  "I'll bloody show them."

Finding my way back to base after being blind-folded and driven across an old airfield in the dark and randomly deposited in a ditch. "I'll bloody show them."

The last event was an assault course, I was tired beyond belief, and had to be helped down after getting stuck at the top of a climbing net. My legs had cramp, my lungs burned, and I ground to a painful wheezing halt. As two soldiers carried me down to the ground and reassured me that I'd done a good job and several friends were laying on the grass waiting for me, I realised that my anger and "showthemness" had evaporated. Instead, I was left with a sense of achievement and appreciation for everyone who had thrown themselves (literally) into this muddy adventure. I loved everyone. We were great, we'd tried many dangerous and terrifying things that weekend. We'd wiggled into gas masks and chemical warfare suits (did my bum look big in it? Hell yes!). Feasted on lumpy mash, cold tea and tinned fruit. We'd laughed, cried, argued, freaked out, the lot. We'd done our best, and it was over. Hoorah!


Returning home to a hot bath, exhausted, triumphant and ready to claim my recognition at last, I was met with... mild amusement.

I don't know if I showed them anything at all, but I showed myself a few things that I'm glad I had the opportunity to discover; I learned that I had courage and humor in the face of adversity, and that I could quickly make friends in weird situations.

I learned how people can simultaneously challenge and support each other. And that I dislike polishing boots and running around in circles in the rain while being shouted at. 

But my biggest lesson was don't waste your energy trying to impress others if you're not on the same page. If you accept a challenge, do it for for a good cause or for personal growth then you can do it with an open heart and the learning will be all the sweeter for it.