Sarah Thomson

Growing up in the South West of England, Sarah soon made the most of her surroundings, falling in love with nature and taking on a vast amount of outdoor sports which have led to success in high level competition. It also taught her the value and foundation of being able to survive in the wild. Combining these together, she has travelled across the globe and appeared on multiple television programmes, and is now undergoing training in the military to further her skillset in her chosen field.

What was the path that lead you to today?

I grew up in South Devon spending my childhood in the sea, on Dartmoor, and cross-country running. My mum always had me and my sister out and about and that’s definitely where my passion for the outdoors comes from. I was always encouraged to get involved in sports, arts and music clubs and soon developed a love for running, theatre and dance as well as a range of sports from martial arts to surfing, snowboarding to obstacle course racing. I developed a love for long distance endurance at a very young age, quite often spending my weekend out covering up to 40miles over the weekend at the spring age of 11! Whilst training in full time dance, I kept up other sports and was competing in Martial Arts, long distance running and surfing, whilst spending my summers teaching surfing in Cornwall and other parts of Europe and North Africa. I ended up leaving the theatre route and was teaching surfing and snowboarding full time across the globe on all continents, travelling to some of the most incredible places. Alongside this, I studied a FdSc in Surf Science and Technology before going on a nine month training and tour period with a world renown physical theatre company ‘Jasmin Vardimon’ as an apprentice dancer. I then presented on Bear Grylls Survival School series 1 & 2 whilst continuing life as a surf instructor and made it to the final in BBC2’s Ultimate Hell Week in 2016. Being surrounded by people in the military at this point and having a little taste of what it was all about, I then went straight from filming in South Africa for Hell Week to the MOD Careers office and applied to join the RAF.

I am now a Physical Training Instructor in the Royal Air Force.

Who inspired you to do what you do?

I have been inspired by a lot of people along the way. My inspiration often lies in looking at the person who's shoes I would like to be standing in. Having said that, I am inspired by almost every sporting event and the hours of hard work it has taken the athletes to get there, but also the person who turns up to run their first marathon after deciding to take up running for the first time in 20 years, every doctor that saves a life, but also the joe blogs who performs an act of heroism in the hope they can save someone. I am inspired by the little things … The kid who picks up a piece of litter from the beach, the one who moves a worm from the middle of the road to the edge so it doesn’t get run over, the people who smile in the face of hardship and the ones who cry in the comfort of others. The person that stands up for what they believe no matter what the outcome is, or what another may think of them.

What have been the biggest obstacles you have encountered?

I believe anyone aiming high will encounter many physical obstacles but the greatest obstacles will always lie between your own two ears. I have often put too much pressure on myself and overtrained/sustained injury/lost the love for something. Finance has played a big part in missed opportunities but has also created others by having to always take the harder route. Injury is the obstacle I find most challenging. It’s very easy as a competitive sports person to let injury grind you down as you watch your competition get stronger, but again I have learn’t the value of the injury period in working on the weaknesses I would normally push to one side. I have learned that obstacles are only obstacles if you let them block your way. Instead, I challenge myself and other people to see the obstacles as a pivotal point in becoming stronger.

Biggest triumphs?

I see the biggest triumphs in being a big part of someone else achieving great things or making someone else happy. My biggest personal triumphs lie in sporting accomplishments. The biggest physical triumph was breaking the world record on the Wales Coast Path, an 870mile solo, self supported along the entire Welsh coast from Chester to Chepstow. Over 33 back to back marathons, with the elevation equivalent of summiting Kilimanjaro 60 times, all with 55lbs of kit, very little food, a small tent to sleep in and nothing but my own head to keep pushing. Representing GB at the European Spartan Championships this year, getting a European Gold in martial arts, beating a current serving Special Forces soldier on the fan dance route and making it to the bitter end of Hell Week are also amongst the highlights.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

That's a hard one! You learn a valuable lesson from so many things, but the most valuable is that you should always work hard at being the best person you can be. Not just at something, but in everything. Be the kindest, most helpful, passionate, hard working, caring, positive person you can be. Remember that happiness is the most important factor in life and always try to make sure that you have only a positive effect on those around you. Be the person you would want as your role model and focus on being a human with great value too the world. My favourite quote is ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ Mahatma Gandhi. If everyone lived by that, the world would be a pretty good place.

What are the things that help you get through each adventure?

Remembering why I'm there, doing what I'm doing. Most people chose to do something for a reason, so that will always be at the forefront of my mind as an accessible tool when it starts to get hard.

What scares you and how do you deal with fear?

My biggest fear is getting to the end of my life, looking back on it and wishing that I had done more. That ‘more’ comes down to doing more with time, more for myself and more for other people. The best thing you can do with fear is to use it as a driving force. I deal with this fear by letting it push me to take all opportunities, try new things, to help others achieve what they want from life and to try and make changes to the things I believe can be made better.

Why is getting outdoors so important in modern life?

Nature can do the most wonderful things. It’s scientifically proven that being surrounded by the ocean, the sound of birds, stepping on fresh grass and paddling in free flowing rivers can reduce stress, boost happiness and be the cure for people struggling with insomnia. We also get vitamin D from the sunshine and it improves skin, hair and eye health! Then there is main element of understanding that we were made to be outside. We are designed to live like animals because that’s essentially what we are. We used to live in caves, make fire from flint and wood, hunt with spears and track direction and time by the sun, moon and stars. We have lost our primal skills through the development of technology and materials, and it’s such a shame that most children being born in this time period will never know how to protect themselves and survive in the wild. It is essential in this day and age? If you never stepped off the beaten track... Possibly not. It is valuable in this day and age? One million percent yes. Even aside from knowing life saving skills, being outdoors often comes with activity which is another and very essential part of good health and happiness.

Which is your most unforgettable adventure and why?

There have been a lot prior to this and some great adventures after, but the most unforgettable is probably the first ultra marathon I ever did. I have NEVER felt pain like that! It’s the first time I really believed that man kind could push themselves to achieve anything they wanted. It was the first time I understood the concept of a second wind (and probably a twentieth wind!) and the first time I understood what people meant when they said ‘it’s all in your head’. Travel has been at the heart of many adventures and you never forget the bright colours, amazing smells, market hustle and bustle, beautiful displays of culture and religion, new languages, swooping pelicans and giant elephants of the different countries you pass through.

Who has been an unsung hero in your life?

I have two. The rare humans you meet that make a very large impact on your life, sometimes without even realising they are, or doing anything big in particular. Natalie Fox, an incredible surfer, yoga teacher, environmental activist and all round amazing human being, who made me fall in love with all the things that fill me with happiness now. For enlightening me on the value of perspective and making other people happy or finding out what makes them happy. If I leave this world having made the same impact she has, then I will have ticked all the boxes. Sgt Jonny Watkins, who displays the value of being someone that has the upmost dedication to being incredible at their job, and to being an incredible human. Always going one step further than most people do, always saying the right thing and striving to make those around him the best they can be too. Sometimes, especially when you feel lost, you need to a reminder and a restored faith that there are people doing the right thing and in an environment you were unsure of.

What's next for you?

This could go on forever, so I’ll keep it brief!

  • I’m hoping to get through my training successfully and begin life as a PTI in the forces.
  • Working hard to try and make it to the CrossFit regionals in the next two years.
  • I want to get back to the Europeans in obstacle course racing and finish on top. I’ll hopefully have the funds to get to the Worlds this year too!
  • Get back on the UK Pro Surf tour in 2018.
  • Get my paramedic quals.
  • Set up my own charity.
  • The long term goal is to win all the classic ultras! The list of all the toughest footraces on Earth are pinned both on my wall and in my head.

Do you have a motto you live by?

Strive to be the person you would want as your role model.