As another cohort of celebrities presented themselves in the name of reality TV entertainment, one star had perhaps more of an obvious physical challenge than others. Lauren Steadman, the gifted Paralympian who won silver in Rio in 2016 was one of only two finalists who completed the notorious SAS training course. Despite undergoing severe physical endurance not-to-mention a sustained period of interrogation, she was one of just two celebrities left standing.
There is something comforting about watching a group of celebrity contestants battle against the brutal elements of a remote Scottish island. Seeing recruits crawling through mud or jumping into freezing water, as one snuggles up on the sofa with a hot cup of tea and a hobnob is oddly satisfying! The cold, wind and rain makes things tough enough. But to do this whilst hulking your bodyweight in military kit (or each other!) necessitates a level of stamina which is nothing short of superhuman. Add into the mix a bunch of hardcore ex special forces operatives, barking orders as they probe psychological insecurities and you have the recipe for a show that would break the best of us.
Twelve famous faces started out including the likes of Katie Price, Joey Essex, boxer Tony Bellew, Rudimental band member Locksmith and Paralympian Lauren Steadman. Only two survived, Lauren and Locksmith. This is not to say that the others ‘failed’ in any way. It is clear that everyone who reached the latter stages had little if anything left in the tank. All those who underwent the interrogation stage appeared to have gone on a significant journey both physical and mental. Bellew’s progress was particularly moving as he confronted his own demons, not least the tragic death of his brother-in-law. Locksmith was an admirable grey man, unassuming, humble and quietly completing tasks whilst supporting his fellow contestants.
Lauren Steadman’s battle was equally emotional. The challenge presented by her physical impairment when compared to the rest of the group was apparent. Lauren was born missing her lower right arm. As a result, she would face many difficulties on the course, all of which however, she overcame. There is no doubt that her disability, coupled with a steely determination to be the best she can be, has forged an iron will that was unbreakable throughout the series. Nevertheless, her battles were not simply physical. Like the other participants, the course tested her to the psychological limit, not so much during the final stage, but throughout the earlier parts of selection.
For me, the fractious relationship she shared with Joey Essex did much to highlight certain weaknesses in her ability to work in a team with whomever she was paired. Perhaps some of this has to do with her singlemindedness and competitiveness as a top-class athlete. Many sportspeople comment on the selfishness and outright ruthlessness that comes with training and competing at the highest level. Another reason why the pair did not hit it off may also be rooted in the simple fact that they just did not get on. Whether a result of mindset, alternate backgrounds or a different approach, they clearly did not see eye to eye. Lauren commented that at times they were like siblings, winding each other up. It certainly looked that way on screen. Those two were arguably the two most physically fit individuals on the course. Maybe Lauren and Joey simply struggled to work with somebody who they naturally saw as a rival rather than a colleague.
As someone who is used to achieving, Lauren found it even more difficult to deal with her ‘Oppo’ when, in her eyes, his attitude and behaviour threatened her performance on the course. The infamous episode where they were paired together and tasked with transporting a log over rough terrain arguably brought the world champion to breaking point. Voicing her frustration that she felt Joey was not pulling his wait, it was clear she was disappointed to fall so far behind. The discomfort she had to endure due to her disability would have certainly heightened her frustration. But let’s not forget she is a formidable triathlete, used to breaking through pain barrier after pain barrier. Her issue was not solely physical fatigue, but mental exhaustion.
There was a point when it was felt her drive and will to succeed might be her undoing. Rather than adapt to the situation in which she found herself, it was slightly disappointing to see her start to complain and openly display her disgruntlement. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and this was the opportunity to be the better person. Her dressing down afterwards by the staff was firm, but necessary. She was the one who needed to step up. And she did. To Lauren’s credit she changed, learning to work with Joey, rather than against him. “It was a good lesson” she admitted afterwards. But here’s the thing. She’s human. Lauren suffered a bit of a social media backlash at the time of her clash with the ex TOWIE star. She was not a team player, many a Twitter user said. Perhaps, but she evaluated her behaviour, she changed her approach. She evolved.
In an interview, Lauren compared completing the SAS course to winning a gold medal. Was this an exaggeration? No, absolutely not. In fact, one could go further and state that to Lauren it might have even meant more. It’s clear that the Laura Steadman who started the course was different to the one who came out on the other side. More significantly, to rise to the top amongst so many fellow able-bodied contestants is a massive achievement and a demonstration to all that disability, genuinely need not hold one back.
I wonder if the enormity of what she has achieved has settled in yet. I suspect not, but I hope it does. Her relationship with Joey Essex merely demonstrated that she is normal person; that she still has things to learn. Her overall completion of the course, however, proves she is anything but!