From Unfit, Unhealthy, Domestic Abuse survivor to SAS Who Dares Wins finalist

I have always been obsessed with the Channel 4 show SAS Who Dares Wins and every year when it’s on I turn to my husband and say ‘I need to be on this show’. When the applications came out last year I applied never thinking I would get onto the show. I applied in May and in Mid June I had an email inviting me to complete the Fit test in London. I jumped around my front room when I read the email.

Women who apply for the show have to complete the male fit test requirements. Press ups, sits ups, beep test and jerry can carry. I had no upper body strength. I tried to do the required 44 press ups in under 2 minutes and managed 8!!! Just 8.

I decided to join my local CrossFit called ‘The Box Reebox’ as I knew the owner Pete Howe but was always too scared to go as all the members intimidated me with their muscles and fitness. I attended my first session, everyone was so lovely and I was instantly hooked. I had about 4 weeks to get myself in shape for the fit test so I started to attend CrossFit 5 days a week. 10 days before the fit test I tore my Pec Muscle from over training on the Push ups. I had to have so many physio appointments and had to have it strapped up for the big day. When it was time to do the fit test I sat in the waiting area with ice on my shoulder. I had rang them the day before saying I was injured but they encouraged me to still attend as someone else could have taken my place. I went to London with my dad (who had previously worked alongside the SAS) and I ended up passing the fit test with flying colours even with my injury. The adrenaline must have taken over as I didn’t feel much pain until on the train home when I was in agony.

They don’t tell you if you made the show until a few weeks before you leave for filming so I thought it was best to up my fitness regime and prepare myself just in case. I had been a runner for about 14 years but had done nothing else but run. I started my fitness just after my second child was born. I had come out of a domestic violence relationship where I ended up presses charges and going to court due to being hospitalised when 6 months pregnant. I was very unhealthy, unfit, overweight and vulnerable. I had no confidence or self-esteem. I started running and my confidence and mental health improved massively. I then started running half marathons and then ran the London marathon twice 2 years running. However, I knew the fitness for SAS would be on a whole different level.

I therefore asked my friend who was ex forces (funnily also called FOXY) if he could provide me with PT sessions and I started seeing him twice a week on top of my 5 times a week at CrossFit. Some days I would train twice a day. We mainly concentrated on endurance stamina and building up of muscles on my legs. We had lots of training sessions with me wearing a weighted vest and Lots of sandbag carries.

Every session was different but some examples are:

5 x 5 deadlifts

3x 16 single leg squats


Into 10 mins of 

1min weighted wall sit 15kg plate

1min sandbag hold 50kg

Every time I broke the minute I would have to do a 200m weighted vest run and then go straight back into the hold from whatever second I broke it, until I did 60 seconds.

Another example

5×5 back squat build to heavy.


1 miles weighted vest run into 

5 rounds

100 ft sledge push, 

100 ft sandbag carry

100 ft farmers carry

10 40kg sandbag over the shoulder

And finish with 1 mile weighted run.

These sessions helped me so much. I really don’t think I would have lasted long if I hadn’t of had my amazing PT who pushed me in the weeks leading up.

In the first episode you see us undress down to our underwear and Ant Middleton gives us a beasting of sprinting up and down a hill, carrying each other, burpees, bunny hops etc. These go on for hours but only a snippet is shown on the TV. Every single recruit said ‘what have we let ourselves in for’ after our first beasting. It was a complete shock to the system. I thought I was fit but when you have all the kit, military boots and Bergen’s on and have only had 2 hours sleep a night and 700 calories a day it really makes the smallest thing so much harder.

The selection process is to see if you are tough enough to pass. You either quit and hand in your arm band or the DS cull you. I managed to come 5th out of 24 recruits. I was so happy with this. I never thought I would get so far. My determination everyday helped me through, my willpower and mental strength. It is an incredible achievement that I cherish. If you really want something just be positive, train hard and never give up. 

Nicola McGrath

Recruit number 6.

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