Who is Pavandeep Singh?
Just some guy from Slough with a desire to put himself through difficult challenges to find his breaking point.
Who is your role model?
The Warrior, the Poet, the Saint, the Musician, the Linguist, the Philosopher, the King – Guru Gobind Singh Ji, 10th Master of the Sikhs.
I’ve received a lot of praise from fellow Sikhs regarding getting on SAS: Who Dares Wins. They’ve mentioned how I’ve represented the community with honour and brought pride to them. I am honoured to receive this praise but ultimately, I don’t see how I’ve done anything different to what we were always supposed to do. What we were always supposed to be. Unfortunately, the Way of the Warrior-Saint seems to have been relegated to an almost symbolic role in our community. At a time when the world needs us most, the closest we come to being warriors is by wearing a Kirpaan, and for most, not even that. I want to change that. To me, the principles that the Gurus taught us, and showed us, are the principles that need to permeate every aspect of our lives. I look for the day when things like a Sikh appearing on something like SAS: Who Dares Wins become commonplace. The physical suffering of training was prescribed to Sikhs for a reason – it is a key that, alongside spirituality and meditation, brings control of the mind and the desires, and unlocks the massive potential we all possess.
What are your hobbies?
What you could say initially started as hobbies many years ago, have now become important pursuits in my life. Physical training, spiritual training, and music – tabla and Indian classical are the skills and abilities I work on. I also enjoy reading and learning about philosophy, leadership, and self-improvement so that I can challenge my ways of thinking and not stagnate mentally. Getting out in nature and walking in the hills is something I love.
For fun, I enjoy laughing, so watching a good comedy is always a good idea. Or spending time in the company of those I value above solitude, who are a select few.
What’s your day job?
I work as an ophthalmology registrar (trainee eye surgeon) at an NHS hospital.
What’s your favourite song and book?
My favourite book is The Lord of the Rings. I think it exemplifies the ‘Hero’s Journey’ perfectly and provides role models on how to lead a good, strong and honourable life. It is also a literary classic and a perfect escape from the world.
Favourite song – I have many depending on the time and mood. Any song by Metallica will usually do! But I also enjoy anything from classical film music to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
So you joined up to the series SAS Who Dares Win. What made you sign up to the show?
From Sikh history and beyond, I was always fascinated by ‘heroes’ and their stories/myths. In my early 20s, I decided I didn’t want to just keep telling stories about great warriors and their deeds in history but to go through it myself and try to walk the hero’s path. So I reflected deeply and decided to find out what makes a hero. I discovered it was essentially a collection of virtues. I then asked myself if these virtues could be developed and trained from the ground up. I realised they could be. And my journey really began there.
I feel that for a Sikh, training is a form of worship, and that mentality led me to find greater and greater challenges, as I felt that is what a true warrior strives for.
In 2016, I took part in The Cateran Yomp 2016 which is a 54 mile loaded march through the hills of Perthshire for ABF The Soldier’s Charity and managed 36 miles in 19 hours after walking for 7 hours with an injury. I was behind the cut off time so was retired. I returned in 2017 and managed 46 miles in 24 hours and then went back in 2019 and completed the 54 miles in 23 hours and 52 minutes and 59 seconds. These yomps broke me down completely but in those moments of darkness, I found great peace and clarity and hence why I kept going back for more. It whetted my appetite and applying for SAS: Who Dares Wins turned out to be the natural progression of this (lifelong) journey.
What was the experience like?
It was the best experience of my life. It was incredibly difficult and horrendous but also life-changing. The suffering is what made it so good as it allowed me to get a visceral feel of what Special Forces selection is actually like and what operators have to go through to become the best of the best. Furthermore, it allowed me to put myself to the test in really extreme conditions and to me, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was the greatest challenge I had ever faced and challenge and hardship, to a warrior, are the best things in life.
I also wanted to find a sense of belonging and purpose and found this amongst a group who were, at first, strangers, but then became like a second family. Everyone was raw and there was no pretence and so I had the chance to bond and make lifelong friendships. I found my band of brothers (and sisters!).
When I left the course, I had a massive sense of fulfilment and felt that a hole in my life had been filled. A hole that I never even knew was there. I now feel completely self-reliant, with the knowledge (note: not belief) that I can take on anything and come through the other side. Even if I don’t know how at the time, I know I will be able to persevere and grind away until I get through it. Whatever it may be.
I learnt how to become a doer and the training techniques required to ultimately silence the voice of negativity within.
They say that to understand the Will of God (Hukam) is to understand God himself. I have a sense of acceptance now and a feeling that no matter what happens, all is God’s Will. This in itself brings me peace but furthermore, the ‘unknown’ no longer cause me any anxiety. Whatever has come my way and whatever comes my way in the future is all a part of Hukam, and I am content in the knowledge that whatever the unknown future brings my way, I will meet it as simply another challenge. And a warrior loves a challenge.
You are turban-wearing Sikh so how hard were the tasks you did in your turban?
No problem whatsoever. I figured if my ancestors could go to war in turbans, I’d be alright. I kept my turban on for all the tasks on day 1 but as things were very unpredictable and we were regularly called out at a few moments’ notice, my pataka would often have to do. Also, many times we were told to pack our helmets (indicating they would be required) before a task, and so I would stick to my pataka when going out as there was no time to switch or undo my turban in the field due to the sheer intensity of the tasks.
Carrying out physically demanding tasks with a turban on is not difficult. I get asked this a lot by non-Sikhs and Sikhs, surprisingly. I don’t know, maybe people think it weighs a lot? And surely, with ‘that thing wrapped around your head’ I couldn’t possibly perform? It actually makes me laugh. It is 4-5m of lightweight cotton tied in a way that follows the contours of your head and is quite secure. I think it’s easy to make excuses about small things or make an issue about anything. For a Sikh, the turban is part of our uniform. You just get on with the job.
When you had the 40kg barrel over your head in the pouring rain what was going through your mind? What pulled you through?
We didn’t know it was 40kg. Which actually helped as then you don’t have any expectations. It wasn’t too bad. Pressing it wasn’t too hard, and when I had to do a static hold, I just knew it was going to go on for ages. And so it was just a matter of bracing and getting tight and holding position. And then just a matter of staying calm, controlling my breathing and getting comfortable and ‘settling in’. I had to be at peace with it not ending, rather than counting down the seconds to a hopeful end. When the DS was shouting ‘This will not stop!’, I would just say to myself, ‘Yeah they’re just lying…hold on a bit more…’. Many times during that, my mind would say, ‘That’s enough, you’re going to have to get it down now’, and it was at that point I would have to ignore that voice and just hold on for a few more seconds until the voice passed. It was a process repeated over and over. Also, despite being generally a bit of a rebel in life, I wanted to be a ‘good boy’ here and didn’t want to have the DS look at me failing. Yes, eventually I would have to bring it down to my thighs and take a breather but I would just take a few breaths, re-compose myself and push it up again.
A lot of the tasks were in the water, how cold was it there?
Scotland was very cold!
It was bone-chillingly cold. I think one of the DS, Ollie, said that he’s been diving in the Arctic but the waters around Scotland are something else. I remember that even if you were trying to move or swim in that water, it was so cold, that after a while your limbs would just stop responding as if the nervous impulses were not getting through. And when you got back out on land and had to change kit or run, even though you might be mentally fine and sending commands to your arms and legs to get moving, they were not having any of it! I’ve never shivered so violently in my life and for so long.
On the bright side, its something I became quite attached to and now regularly have cold baths on a daily basis.
What motivated you through those gruelling cold conditions in Scotland?
Simple mission objective – never give up. I had come to get to the end. Once you make that resolution in your mind and fully believe, nothing can stop you. Unless you get culled.
In those extreme situations, everything is effectively stripped from you. Your image and bravado go. What you ‘think’ you are, goes. You are just left with what you have at your core. I had resolved to never give up.
My plan was to never throw in the towel, to keep doing something, to keep pushing and grinding and find a way through. I believe this ‘ability’ is trainable. Whatever your discipline, you must push yourself and go to that point where thoughts of giving up and stopping start to creep in. Then stay in that place and fight those thoughts. You will win some, and you will lose some. But with practice and the more time spent in that ‘arena’, your wins will start to increase and you will begin to ‘learn’ the art of not giving up at that level. Then you can increase the ‘load’ and start again – just like any kind of progressive training.
I think you have to be prepared to suffer. If you have this in your heart, you will do well in any aspect of life.
I would like to say I had the teachings from the Sikh faith to call upon – stories and deeds of the great Sikh warriors of old. But even this was stripped from me. Maybe they were seeped into my subconscious and provided support from there, but ultimately, in the darkness, I was always left with one question – ‘Do you want to give up? Is this the legacy you want to leave…? No? Then keep going.’
How did you prepare for SAS?
I had a good strength base from powerlifting, but toned that down a bit and focussed more on running and hill walking with weight. I had to reduce some of my ‘land-based’ training to take up intensive swimming lessons which took up a lot of time. I was booking two-hour slots at a time and the instructors were surprised and thought I was mad as it was so tiring. I started taking cold baths and showers from mid-July (not too hard at the start because we were having a heatwave). I stuck with it until I went on the course in October and I do believe it paid off to some extent.
As my day job is so busy and as I have to do on-call work, I only really trained 3-4x/week I would have liked to do more but there just wasn’t any time.
My typical workout consisted of weight training – hitting the whole body over the course of the week and then finishing each workout with a certain pace of run – medium 5k or hill sprints for example. Also, on top of this, I was taking swimming lessons which ate into my time considerably. Now that I’ve been on the course, I reckon my training wasn’t too bad but the secret to doing well is loaded carries (ideally carrying bodyweight) for distance. And ridiculously high volume press-ups, squats, sit-ups etc. Just to add, loaded carries are an incredible exercise and everyone should be doing them!
How supportive were your friends and your family doing the show?
My friends were probably more excited than I was! The few that knew wanted me to do well obviously and were already great fans of the show.
My parents were worried as they thought it would be dangerous and that I would be putting myself at unnecessary risk. Also, being brought up in a typical Panjabi household where children are mollycoddled and wrapped up in cotton wool (at any age!) the thought of me being away from them for 2 weeks and being put through God knows what, with no contact, was a bit much for them. It’s understandable because I am where I am today thanks to the sacrifices they have made throughout their lives.
Support obviously helps, but again, the way I’ve grown up and developed, I just need my inner drive to get me through things. If I think something is worth doing, I will do it. I don’t put expectations on anyone to support me, that’s up to them – if they want to, great, welcome aboard. If not, then I couldn’t care less anyway.
Seeing the messages from your dad how hard was it to stay strong?
Easy. I was completely unaffected by that video. I like to keep my emotions under my control, rather than the other way around. When I need them, I will use them. I can achieve a state where I am quite distant from my emotions and if they do find a way through I find it easy to switch them off. I barely thought about home, my family, or any other part of my life throughout the course, so this moment was no different.
Would you do it again?
What’s next for Pav?
I will be training as a Close Protection operative and specialising in Lifestyle Medicine alongside my ophthalmology training. I am also planning to obtain training in expedition and extreme medicine. I plan to take up martial arts again and have my eyes on Brazilian jiu-jitsu or Sambo. I will be launching a training movement to help people break out of a rut, realise the potential of their minds and bodies, and become self-empowered in fitness and beyond. I feel the fitness industry has been made unnecessarily complicated due to ignorance and the desire for financial gain. I hope to change this, and make a difference to society at the same time. Standby…