Monday 28th September 2015. The day that wasn’t supposed to end the way it did. I didn’t really need to be there. I should have just gone straight home. That would have been the easiest option anyway. I’d just done a big weekend of training. My legs were heavy, I should have just gone home and put my feet up. But then, when had the easy option ever steered you towards growth and greatness? I’d already decided anyway, I’d drive back into work just so that I could cycle back home again. More time on the bike, more time turning the pedals, more time pushing my limits, ultimately that’s where the growth is right? If I was going to start racing, if I was going to start properly competing to a high standard then taking the easy option just wasn’t on my radar.

Back at work, I parked up, got changed and got on my bike. The sun was shining, nice and dry, not too hot, not too cold, perfect cycling conditions. I started my Garmin, clipped in and away I went, this would be another session in the bank.

Except it wasn’t. I didn’t make it back home that day. My first conscious memory is of waking up in hospital, laid flat on a spinal board, neck brace on and a group of nurses crowded around, one with a pair of surgical forceps pulling my tongue out whilst another stitched my tongue back together. I remember thinking ‘what the fuck is going on here?’. All I kept being told was ‘don’t move’ and ‘lay still’. I was only conscious for a minute or two before I passed back out.

At that point I didn’t know it but I’d been involved in a road traffic accident. A car had pulled out on me resulting in a collision. My head and face took most of the impact. I had bleeding of the brain in three places. I broke my jaw. I bit through my tongue. Teeth got knocked out. Multiple cuts and multiple bruises. My bike was a write off. It is with one hundred percent certainty I can say that if I’d not been wearing a helmet I would be dead. Fact.

I distinctly remember in those initial hours in hospital laying on that spinal board, neck brace on, being inserted into an MRI scanner to check my neck and spinal cord thinking ‘fuck, this can’t be happening! All those hours and hours of training getting ready to compete for nothing. Am I ever going to be able to ride a bike again? Am I ever going to be able to run again? Fuck, am I even going to be able to walk again?’ In that MRI scanner, I made a vow to myself, ‘if I get away with this then I’m going all in to achieve my goals. No more waiting for the perfect time. No more fearing failure. No more half measures’.

Luckily the MRI scan showed no damage to my neck or spine. It did however show up the brain contusions. There was nothing they could do about that, other than monitor me closely. At the time, and even to this day, they can’t really say what the long-term prognosis of the brain bleeds will be but fuck it, I’m alive, I’ll deal with that as and when.

After a pretty rough week in hospital I could go home. It was then laid in bed, face a mess, looking like the elephant man that the first series of SAS: Who Dares Wins was airing on Channel 4. I watched it and loved it. Thing is though, it frustrated the fuck out of me. This would have been perfect for me. I grew up fascinated with the Special Forces. One of the first books I ever read, probably way too young, was Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab. Then I read Chris Ryan’s book about the same mission. I was in awe of these incredible humans, physiological freaks with insane fitness and strength completing missions against the odds all over the world and then keeping it secret. They were hero’s, God’s in fact! The more books I read, the more I understood the ethos of these elite soldiers. They were incredibly fit, incredibly strong and mentally robust to deal with everything that was thrown at them. I wanted a slice of that ethos so started applying it to my life. I started training, running at first and then cycling a little later on. I took it seriously, I wanted to see what my full potential was. At the age of 20, much to the total confusion of my friends, I gave up drinking. It was holding me back, only negative shit was coming from drinking so it got binned. That meant I had more time to train. This went on for years, training hard but if i’m being honest there was no real end goal. I just wanted to be the best that I could be. How good I was I didn’t know. Not competing against anyone meant not knowing. I suppose the fear of failure stopped me from putting myself out there.

That was soon to change with cycling, just before the accident I had committed to start racing and competing. That’s why I’d really started upping the time spent turning the pedals. That’s why I chose to drive back into work that day.

So, laying there watching members of the public going through a selection process run by ex SF guys left me feeling frustrated. Fuck, I would have loved to have done that. That doesn’t look too hard, I could’ve done that before I got run over. Before the accident, I would have been able to do this. Not a chance now. Not sure whether I can run or ride again let alone be pushed to the absolute limit. Massively fucking annoying.

As the series went on I felt more and more like a caged animal. I needed to get out and see what my body was capable of. Ignoring the doctors’ advice, for my own sanity, I got up, put some running trainers on and went for a 10km run. It was the slowest 10km run I’ve ever done but it was by far the best. I’d had a constant headache every waking moment since leaving hospital but as soon as I started running it disappeared. The feeling of fresh air in my lungs, feet pounding the pavement, breathe laboured and sweat dripping down my face was glorious. I suddenly felt hope. This accident is shit but am I fuck letting it beat me. That moment was a crossroad. One route led to playing the victim, curling up into a ball, following the path of least resistance and giving up. The other route was fighting, using the accident as a source of strength, a never-ending fuel source to power through life and grasp every opportunity with both hands. I chose the latter.

You see you are a long time looking at the lid. You’ll have eternity to go over your regrets. My new-found philosophy was that I’d rather regret the things I did do as opposed to regret the things I didn’t do. Fuck the fear of failure. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Time for actions over words. That was going to be me, stop fucking talking about doing things and start getting them done.

That night with my mental robustness restored I watched the final episode of SAS: Who Dares Wins. At the end, they announced there would be a second series. Boom! Fuck it, I’m going to apply, I knew for sure they wouldn’t touch me with a barge pole due to my brain injuries but I’d still apply and use that as my motivation to get back to full strength and fitness. With that I threw myself back into running.

I was still suffering from a lot of headaches. I had many, many trips to see neurologists, dentists and specialists for this and specialists for that but my happy place and pain free place was in fresh air running.

One day I received an email from Minnow films inviting me to a casting day in London at the end of January. There would be a fitness test and then, if you passed, an on-screen interview. At this stage, rightly or wrongly, I still hadn’t mentioned my accident. I thought as soon as I did then that would throw up a red flag and I’d be binned.

So, there I was, around 4 months after a quite significant shunt, in London about to throw myself into a fitness test for a TV show. It was one of those surreal pinch me moments. Anyway, the fitness test went well, I passed and then went into an on screen interview. That was a weird experience but again I did ok and then was told that I’d be doing a second interview. The second interview was better, I felt like I had come across well but at this point I still hadn’t told them about my brain injuries. Then at the end came the fateful question, ‘So Jon, great meeting you, just before we finish, is there anything else you think you should tell us?’. Fuck, here we go, this is where it all ends. ‘Well yeah’ I said ‘there is one thing I suppose I should tell you. 4 months ago I got run over………….’

Turns out they loved it! That’s the sort of thing they were looking for. That was my ‘story’. So, that was the beginning of my successful application to take part in SAS: Who Dares Wins series 2. After more physical and psychological testing, and in my case medical reports and several extra hoops to jump through, I was flown along with 24 other recruits to the Amazon Jungle in Ecuador for the toughest 10 days of my life.

What’s the moral of this story? What’s the take home message here? Everybody goes through shit. Everybody has things in life that will throw them off course. Everyone has or will be tested both physically or mentally in some way, shape or form. The key though is your reaction to this adversity. Do you take the easy route and play the victim or do you fight? Do you use your shit to fuel your growth to be your best? There’s a saying,

One is only truly introduced to oneself in times of adversity’.

I believe that everyone has that animal instinct deep inside them to fight, but its ultimately down to you to resist the path of least resistance.

Growth is hard. The pursuit of your full potential is hard. Not everyone has the inclination to test themselves, to better themselves but you’re here reading this, so that makes you different. You’re not one of them. I hope reading this helps inspire you in a small way to keep your fire burning. Actions over words. Regret nothing because you’re a long time looking at the lid.

I don’t believe for one second that I’m anything special or unique. I do however believe that I’m massively fortunate. I believe I was fortunate enough to get run over that day. You see, if it hadn’t of happened, my inner fire wouldn’t have been ignited. I wouldn’t be grabbing life by the balls. Yes, at the time it was shit, and still to this day there’s continued shit, and there will be more shit in the future I’m sure but fuck it, I’m alive in mind and body, willing and able to positively influence my future history.

You are in that same position too, you control your future history, don’t waste it.

Thanks for reading

Jon Stiles

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