He’ s the real-life action man with an unquenchable thirst for adventure. Bear Grylls tells us why the human spirit is designed to endure and why the outdoors is what makes people come alive. It’s all about kicking yourself out of your comfort zone, writes Nilufer Atik

If you ever find yourself lost in the wilderness with little but a half-eaten energy bar left in your rucksack, he’s definitely the man you want standing beside you.

Not only would Bear Grylls get you back to base camp safely, you’d probably learn a thing or two about skinning a snake along the way and how best to drink urine.

When it comes to survival there’s very little this modern day adventurer doesn’t know. With an impressive background in the SAS, not to mention several popular reality TV series under his belt, the father-of-three is the most recognised face of outdoor adventure in the world. Over a billion people watched his early shows on the Discovery Channel, and he now both fronts and co-owns programmes on ITV, Channel 4, and the US station NBC.

His most recent offering, The Island, saw groups of men and women left in remote, uninhabited environments for six weeks to fend for themselves with just a few basic tools and their wits to rely on. The show has already attracted as much controversy as intrigue.

The launch series in 2014 came under fire for featuring men only and the latest was criticised after contestants accidentally killed an endangered crocodile. Nevertheless, the programme has still averaged 3.1 million viewers, proving yet again that Bear’s appeal is hard to quash.

The tasks given to contestants on The Island, such as finding fresh water and warding off wild animals, are undoubtedly challenging for them. But to a seasoned pro like Bear they

come as easily as brushing teeth.

Even he isn’t on camera the real-life super hero is either climbing up or jumping off something.

“I think my tendency towards endurance sports comes from my time in the military,” he says. “The training was obviously very physical but was geared towards endurance – being able to cross mountains in all weathers and carrying huge weights for long distances. That requires a lot of mental resolve and is designed to test your spirit rather than just your aerobic fitness.”

One of Bear’s first challenges was climbing Mount Everest. It was a lifelong dream of his to conquer the mountain; despite breaking his back in a parachute accident in 1996.

The adventurer was freefalling in Zambia when it happened, and according to his surgeon he came “within a whisker” of being paralysed for life.

Most people would have abandoned the idea of taking on the highest mountain in the world after such an ordeal. But not Bear.

He spent 12 months in rehab to make sure he would reach his goal.

“My dad gave me a picture of Everest when I was eight and taught me how to climb on the white cliffs near our home on the Isle of Wight which I loved,” Bear recalls.

“I vowed to climb it myself somehow one day; an ambition we both nurtured together. He taught me that it was OK to have big dreams.”

Bear didn’t just fulfil this ambition at the age of 23, he also became one of Everest’s youngest ever summiteers – a pretty impressive achievement considering a sixth of mountaineers who get to the top don’t even make it back alive. But he never regrets taking the risk.

“Dad died soon after that ascent, so to have achieved it meant so much to me.”

Bear then explains: “Everest was a unique and frightening time. It took a lot of hard work, years of preparation and was physically and mentally exhausting.

“We were on the mountain for over three months and during that time four climbers lost their lives. Two from our team, including me, finally made it to the summit but genuinely by the skin of our teeth.”

The journey took over ninety days in extreme weather, with limited sleep and a lack of oxygen at over 26,000 feet.

On the way down Bear was almost killed in a crevasse when the ice cracked and the ground disappeared beneath him. He was knocked unconscious and came round swinging on the end of a rope. It was the quick-thinking of his best friend Mick who pulled him to safety that saved him – a lesson in the importance of teamwork that has stuck with Bear over the years.

“Survival is not just about knowledge and skills,” he insists, “it’s just as much about positivity, resourcefulness, courage and above all determination.” Bear then provides another pearl of survival wisdom:

“Our greatest weapon is our brain because survival is all about ingenuity: thinking your way round a challenge, calmly, in the heat of the moment. And a big heart is then needed to keep going and never give up.”

Giving up is one thing this daredevil could never be accused of. Trained from a young age in Shotokan karate (not to mention learning to skydive as a teenager), Bear went on to spend three years as a soldier in the British Special Forces, serving with 21 SAS.

It was here that he honed many of the skills he later pitted against nature in TV shows like Running Wild, where he takes celebrities along with him on incredible adventures.

“The military instills, above all, selfdiscipline,” says Bear, “And my training with 21 SAS gave me the confidence to look after myself when the chips were really down. I truly believe as humans that we all have a God given ability to endure and persevere, and that the human spirit is incredibly resourceful and strong.

“I was never the biggest or strongest person but I have always been tenacious and that has counted for so much at many crunch times in the wild.”

Bicton Blister

Photo: Bicton Blister

One of those crunch times came when he had to scale up and down a cliff with the actor Ben Stiller in the second episode of Running Wild. With no climbing equipment at hand, Bear resorted to using a pair of antler horns wedged into a crevice to hold both their weight. It’s such ingenuity that makes his escapades so compelling to watch.

But Bear didn’t start out big. His first TV appearance was an advert for deodorant, followed by guest appearances on talk shows and an anti-drugs campaign for the UK’s Ministry of Defence. Bear then took part in a five-part web series demonstrating urban survival techniques before being asked to front the Channel 4 programme, Escape to the Legion.

It was the subsequent Man Vs Wild (also called Born Survivor) on the Discovery Channel that catapulted him to real fame. It became one of the most watched shows on the planet. Although he says he has enjoyed making all of his programmes it’s Running Wild which remains his favourite.

“What I love so much is how it invariably becomes a very personal and empowering journey for the celebrities.

Friendships made under adversity are always strong and it’s incredible watching them grow in confidence and pride as they go through and overcome it. The wild helps people come alive.”

Off screen Bear doesn’t put his feet up and likes to challenge himself and find adventures more so, often for good causes. He’s a fan of many endurance sports, and he has led several charity expeditions, including an open-air dinner party held under a hot-air balloon at 25,000 feet.

In 2003, he led a team of five on the first unassisted crossing of the north Atlantic Arctic Ocean in an open rigid inflatable boat (RIB). He says this was his toughest ever challenge.

Suffering weeks of frozen spray and icebergs, not to mention battling storms and hypothermia through some of the most treacherous stretches of water in the world, Bear and his team were barely able to finish the journey from Nova Scotia to Scotland.

“Being caught in monster gale force storms off Greenland was a terrifying experience. It was five very humbled and very frozen men that emerged from that expedition three weeks later.”

Learning from tough-times is literal key to Bear’s survival: “I led another RIB expedition in 2005, going the other way through the infamous North West passage in the Arctic, and that was tough but without those moments of sheer terror. We had learnt our lessons well from the first mission.

“Good expeditions should be drama free!”

In 2007 Bear returned to Everest to become the first man ever to fly a powered paraglider above the world’s highest peak, pulling off the impossible and placing himself in the record books. Now in his forties now, he has no intention of slowing down.

Earlier this year, Bear launched “BG EPIC Training” – a high intensity interval training (HIIT) plan that combines strength training with explosive cardio to get people super fit, super quick. Based on the book he put together with his trainer Natalie Summers, the programme comprises of five different types of workouts – including “Epic Hero” sessions for the more advanced.

He also plans to launch classes in private gyms around the UK based on the plan, which he claims helped him transform his own physique.

Bear shrugs: “I used to do the traditional mix of cardio with an hour or so of weight training six days a week but it didn’t change anything, then when I started doing HIIT, I became much leaner, stronger, and felt energised. I wanted to show people how to do the same.

“These workouts have become my staple. But every now and again I still run and running outdoors, barefoot, is always fun.”

For those who don’t find half an hour of relentless burpees, squat jumps and knuckle press-ups tough enough, there’s more.

This October Bear will be launching one of the most gruelling obstacle courses in the world, the “Bear Grylls’ Survival Race”.

Only a thousand entrants are allowed to participate but be warned, it’s not for the faint-hearted. “Out of those thousand I expect only around five people to finish the race,” he warns. “Even if you’ve done countless marathons, it doesn’t mean you will find this easy.”

The reason isn’t the physical challenge itself. Yes, there will be muddy waters to battle through, tough frames to climb and perhaps a few logs to lift – all set along an 18-mile course.

And yes, you will have to be pretty darn fit to get through it. But the real test comes in the form of the mental battles competitors face.

The Ultimate Survivor race consists of three laps of a grueling 10km course, each one finishing with two unique “survival” tasks – the “BG ELITE Challenges”.

These are six “survival conundrums”, each one as difficult as the next. Strength, agility, balance, resourcefulness and determination are just a few of the attributes you will require to complete these tasks. Failure to complete a challenge results in a time penalty, so this is not an option if you have your eye on the Ultimate Survivor trophy.

Several commandos have already signed up for the challenge, which takes place as part of a special weekend festival on October 3rd and 4th at Trent Park in North London. During the fitness weekend there will be obstacle races for children and families too as well as exhibitors and various activities.

“I wanted to create something that would not just cater for everyday men, women and children but also for ultra athletes and provide a race that would really push the bar, not just by adding on extra miles, but by testing people mentally.”

“So many people seek adventure and challenge through computer games these days when in truth, we can all develop our own wilderness warrior spirit, and physicality for real. All it takes is some focus, an effective training programme, and an unshakeable determination to keep kicking ourselves out of our comfort zones.” Bear_family

With all these achievements, a hectic filming schedule, and a new range of branded supplements on the way, it’s a wonder the action man ever gets time to unwind. But when he does there is nothing Bear likes better than spending time with his wife Shara, and three sons Jesse (10), Marmaduke (8), and Huckleberry (7). The family goes caving or kayaking on their mini, private island in Wales.

“It gives us a rare time just to be together as a family without a lot of communication with the outside world,” Bear says adding, “which is heavenly.”

He admits that his passion for adventure has rubbed off on his boys – perhaps not surprisingly given how much Bear was influenced by his own former commando father, Michael.

“The kids want to join in and just be with you, and it doesn’t always have to be set entertainment time. So we often end up just doing a ton of things together and by accident almost, my kids have become good at tying knots, fixing things and using my expedition gear to make up fun games!

I once caught my boys trying to eat ants and drink their own pee but I guess that’s to be expected really.”

And while he may be fearless in the face of a hungry crocodile or tumbling avalanche, there’s one thing that does occasionally keep Bear lying awake at night – the thought that he might run out of luck.

“The biggest fear for me now as a father and husband is not being there for my family, and we have had a few close calls over the years. They have all taught me that life is precious, and that you have got to be smart, and that you only get to get it wrong once.”

Hopefully, he never will.

For more information about BG Epic Training, bgepictraining.com or Bear’s Survival Race, beargryllssurvivalrace.com

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