Paralympian Lauren Steadman
Gritty and inspirational, Paralympic champion Lauren Steadman is a natural winner, picking up sporting medals as well as legions of fans from her star turns on reality TV.
Born with her lower right arm missing, the 27 year old has overcome all obstacles to carve out a glittering sporting career, first as a swimmer then in the Paratriathlon. She won a silver in Rio and is aiming for a gold at the Summer Paralympics when the Games finally get under way in Tokyo post-Covid.
It was her competitive instinct that spurred her to take part in Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins when she had to dig deep into her mental reserves to find the strength to push herself beyond her limits. As an elite athlete, her training pain threshold was high, but nothing had prepared her for the mental torture she faced on the show in which celebrities are put through their paces on a gruelling military assault course.
At the peak of fitness she knew she had the strength and stamina to complete the tasks but she hadn’t factored in just how tired and hungry she was going to be.
Lauren says, “It’s as challenging and gruelling as you see. I was sometimes battling with demons I didn’t know about. I have never been that tired or hungry before in my life. I started to get a real appreciation for what our armed forces do.
Lauren is put through her paces on Celebrity SAS
“I only had to endure it for a relatively short time but this is their job and sometimes they have to do six-month spells at a time in a foreign climate. I have so much respect for them.”
Lauren, who is a mental fitness campaign ambassador with global Scandinavian furniture brand JYSK, believes her mental strength was a game changer.
“At times when I just wanted to give up and crawl back into my bed, I kept thinking this is more than mind over matter; I just kept pushing, pushing on until I succeeded. The sense of relief and achievement was enormous.”
Being roughly woken after just a couple of hours sleep was the one experience Lauren never wants to repeat. She has flashbacks to that feeling of utter despair as she realised despite the tiredness she had to somehow find the resolve to complete her next challenge.
“As an athlete you need at least six hours sleep to function. It started to affect me really badly. It’s that feeling of not knowing what’s coming next or when, and it’s hard to have a fitful sleep when you know you could be woken up at any time.”
But Lauren rose to the challenge of Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins and was declared co-winner with Rudimental’s DJ Locksmith. She was also the first female celebrity to come out top.
Lauren’s take on her own success is typically pragmatic. “We had to compete as individuals and equals. Particularly in challenges where we were paired up we had to keep pushing each other on, drawing strength from each other. When things got tough we didn’t give in, we just found a way to get through it.
“But I have to confess to a feeling of pride when I realised I was the first female celebrity to complete the challenge.”
At one point everyone was individually dragged, hooded, across an open space, given a shotgun and told to aim at whoever came running through the tunnel at them. While the men appeared to react instinctively and shoot on sight the women seemed more measured and held their fire.
Lauren explains, “I think it was only me and Anthea (Turner) who didn’t shoot, so there wasn’t an obvious male/female divide that we noticed.”
When asked how she felt at the prospect of firing at an unknown “enemy” she says, “Your adrenaline levels were literally always high. It was constant and relentless as you just didn’t know what was coming next. So it was just about trying to concentrate and keep focus when it came to things so far out of your comfort zone”
During those challenging times Lauren drew strength from her work as a JYSK mental health ambassador. JYSK UK has partnered with the Zero Suicide Alliance, which aims to get young people to open up more about their feelings and to talk and support each other.
The importance of being such a high-profile role model for young people is not lost on her. “This is a role with responsibilities that I take very seriously. My best advice is that when things get tough, don’t give in, find away to get through it, there are more ways than one to get to a certain destination. Just be adaptable and flexible.”
While Lauren is an inspiration to young people, the woman who has most influenced her is Dame Kelly Holmes. “Not only did she get to the top of her sport but she is an outstanding ambassador for young people and mental health. I admire her so much.”
Lauren by Lake Rotorua in New Zealand in 2016
As reigning European Paratriathlon Champion, a title she has held seven times, as well as being a three-time World Champion, Lauren is the first to admit her physical disability has challenged her to be the best she can be. Throughout her life she has welcomed the chance to overcome barriers.
That was one of the reasons she decided to compete in the 2018 series of Strictly Come Dancing, reaching the semi-finals with professional dance partner AJ Pritchard.
A self-confessed salsa fan, Lauren relished the Strictly Come Dancing experience.
“I am determined and resilient, success is determined by how much grit you show. Disability doesn’t make you different in the world of sport. There are no barriers. If Strictly taught me one thing it’s that you can be anything you want to be if you pursue it hard enough,” she says.
Faye Tozer, Stacey Dooley, Lauren, Ashley Roberts
And Lauren loved dressing up for Strictly. “I wear training gear or swimsuits for a large part of my life but I have to admit I do like to dress up and do the glam thing. If I had to choose between shorts and sandals or a little black dress and heels, it would have to be the dress.”
Aside from her sporting and TV success, Lauren is most proud of her academic achievements. She has a BSc (hons) degree in psychology and a master’s degree in business and management.
“Yes, I am proud of my degrees. I’m not sure how I’m going to use them yet, but I will one day. My focus this year was always the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, which are obviously postponed. So any plans are on hold for a while.
“I would like to write a book one day. I don’t know what about yet – it would have to be interesting and motivating, and one that hopefully people could learn something from.”
Lauren is sponsored by JYSK and is also a mental fitness ambassador for the company.