“Before you know it, you will reach your Everest”
Whilst serving in Afghanistan, Jaco Van Gass was hit with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). After suffering multiple injuries, including the loss of his left arm, he went on to win Invictus Games medals, set a British para-cycling record, won a World Championship bronze and scaled mountains all over the globe.
Here, he shares his top tips and key factors to consider when setting your goals for the New Year.
Prepare for every possibility
Whether it is a mission in Afghanistan or a cycling championship, preparation is key. From his time in the army, Jaco knows not to simply prepare for the best possible scenario, but to know the ins and outs of every potential outcome.
“In the army you don’t just go on an operation and hope it goes well. You go through the levels of preparation to the deepest level. You hope things will pan out in a certain way … but your whole game plan [may change]. You need to prepare for all of it.”
Learn from your attempts
Just as preparation is important, so too is learning from the process.
“You train, prepare, execute the mission, come back and re-evaluate what happened and then get set for the new one. You learn. It is the same in sport. Your competitions are your operations. Sometimes a competition goes exactly as planned and sometimes it doesn’t, in which case, your training and planning starts again.”
Don’t rush, remain focused and be realistic
After suffering numerous life changing injuries in Afghanistan, Jaco went through a long and arduous rehabilitation journey, having to adjust to the loss of his left arm, a severely broken ankle and losing 30% of the muscle mass on his left upper thigh.
“Once I knew to take stuff a little slower,
get realistic goals and aims to work towards,
I just built on that. It was a game changer.”
Initially, Jaco was in a state of denial. In his mind ‘he was still a soldier.’ After leaving civilian hospital, Jaco was sent to Headley Court, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre. But it was only after catching a virus and being sent back to hospital that Jaco accepted his situation and the ‘real recovery started.’
“Once I knew to take stuff a little slower, get realistic goals and aims to work towards, I just built on that. It was a game changer.
“One of my goals was to getting out of my wheelchair because that was the one thing that frustrated me so much.”
After achieving that, the next goal was to walk and then run. Jaco eventually went on to trek to the North Pole, setting records along the way, all from a journey that began in a wheelchair.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Team work has been pivotal to Jaco’s success. In the army, your life is in the hands of the team around you. In sport, you rely on your team of coaches, physio’s, nutritionists and experts. In his challenges, Jaco and his team rely on each other to reach their goal.
“We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses
and would play towards that.”
On his trek to the North Pole, Jaco used his strength to pull a heavier sled than others, but they would aid him with tying his shoes, erecting the tent and cooking his meals.
“We got through some very, very hard stages on the expedition because we were a team. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and would play towards that.”
Asking for help
Having joined the army because he ‘craved independence’, Jaco had to get used to relying on others after his injuries. Through taking on challenges, Jaco found he had to accept that he needed others to achieve his targets.
“There is a point when you have to swallow your pride. I will try to do as much as I can on my own and be independent, but what these challenges and environments help and force you to do is ask for help. There is nothing wrong with asking for help.”
Break it into stages
When attempting to climb Everest, there are multiple stages to the journey. You don’t just climb straight to the top, you go up the mountain in stages. This is the same for achieving any goal, there is no fast route to the top.
“We had to acclimatise to reach the summit of Everest and that requires you to go from Base Camp to Camp One. That was the single hardest day of my life and I had all these negative thoughts in my head. Once you reach Camp One, you stay for a couple of hours, try to get used to the altitude and come back down to Base Camp.”
“Once you learn from those hardships, you will get
through the next one and eventually you
will achieve that goal and reach that summit.”
This process is repeated all the way to the summit, becoming easier each time.
“Isn’t that the same in life? You aren’t just going to set a million or billion pound target and reach it. It’s going to be tough, you’re going to have to get over those hard times when you think it’s impossible.
“Once you learn from those hardships, you will get through the next one and eventually you will achieve that goal and reach that summit.”
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