Nick’s life experiences have taken him around the world and into some extreme situations. He’s been a soldier, firefighter, humanitarian aid worker and expedition leader. Life hasn’t been easy in his pursuit of adventure and now he’s working to assist other people, through his company offering adventure trips with a difference. This is his story. Nick, left in photo, is a philosophy student.
Nick Wildman, Guildford, UK
Living on a hill overlooking a peaceful town was the perfect place to grow up for a boy with a curious nature and a great sense of adventure. We were always outdoors longing to explore what lay over the horizon.
The peace was shattered when the IRA bombed two public houses one Saturday evening. We were on the hill, a few hundred metres away when the first bomb went off. As young kids we thought we’d be heroes and ran towards it. Then the second explosion happened much closer. There was silence and then the screams.
Two years later my father died and my world turned upside down. My mother found it difficult to cope with the sudden loss, mounting business debts, two hungry boys to feed and no external support.
The drive towards adventure was now fuelled by the desperation to escape. Scared, angry and vulnerable, my behaviour changed and I gave up on education. I left school at 15, and had a number of minor court appearances. The guilt of not helping my mother now had shame for company.
My best friend was continually in and out of prison. I visited him in some of the harshest penal establishments in the country; they were frightening places full of doom and fear.
I saw a poster at Waterloo station promising challenge and adventure on a round-the-world expedition. It was divided into 3-month phases, and competition was tough as it was heavily oversubscribed.
I now had a focus, a pathway towards my ultimate goal: to get a place on the expedition, achieve something positive and make my family proud. I applied for a place and after a long selection process I was accepted. It was a defining moment.
The leader of the expedition was Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE, a famous British explorer and Royal Engineer officer. As I saw it, my best chance lay in joining the army, so making a bold move, I signed up for 6 years in the same regiment.
The expedition took place in remote Aboriginal land in the wilds of the Australian outback. We built bridges, conducted environmental tasks and carried out community projects. People had joined the expedition from all over the world but we were one community with a common goal.
Living out in the bush we carried the few possessions we needed to survive and to do the work in front of us. We were attuned to our environment with a natural rhythm, waking at dawn and sleeping on the ground as dusk turned to night. There was no sound or light pollution, just complete stillness.
We entertained ourselves with the incredible night sky of the southern hemisphere and told stories whilst dodging smoke from the fire. It was such a simple, free life, without distractions. I learnt that what really mattered was the people you were with, just helping each other and doing good work. It was a life-changing experience.
I returned to the army which had lost its veneer, the daily monotony of military life led to some tricky moments with spells in the ‘cooler’ and a longer visit to the notorious ‘Glasshouse’ in Colchester. But the unique experience of that first expedition widened my perspective. I had gained some self-belief, developed new skills and met good people on the expedition but on return, my self-imposed limitations were never far away. And I was still searching for an answer.
So I left the military for worldwide travel before clearing the minefields of Kuwait post-Gulf War 1 and subsequently delivering food aid into Sarajevo at the height of the Bosnian War.
I took on anything but living under extreme duress with a few near misses took its toll. After Bosnia I spent months in a state of depression, anxiety and suffered panic attacks. Little was known about post-traumatic stress at this time.
I rejected conventional treatment, eventually following Eastern practices including acupuncture, maintaining a strict diet, exercise and drinking herbal tinctures. And I attended the first term at the School of Philosophy.
Much later I realised that I had fallen into a pattern of high-risk behaviour and putting myself in danger without care of the consequences. These traits are common in people who have adverse childhood experiences. Being unaware as I was, I didn’t have the knowledge on how best to manage stress and look after myself, hence I self-medicated. Becoming more aware through the School’s teachings made me look at my habits and behaviours. It enabled me to show some courage, to look inward, connect with my true self and to try to remove these covers. It has not been easy.
SAS: Arctic to Afghanistan
I continued to focus on my daily practices to become physically and mentally strong enough to take on new opportunities. From being unable to work, within 3 years I began leading expeditions, became a firefighter, joined the army reserve passing SAS (Special Air Service) selection and served in Afghanistan. I also started a family with my wife Hanna and we have two lovely daughters.
Back to the School
Six years ago I rejoined the School of Philosophy in Guildford. I found the material so engaging; it was truly humbling, and inspiring company. My life slowly started to make sense and I began to feel more connected. I realised that behind my behaviours and thinking was the trauma which had left me disconnected from my true self.
Studying both practical philosophy and stoicism has given me such valuable insight and tools for every day. I’ve learnt how to observe myself and not to become too attached to my idea of how things should go. My awareness increased so that I see the beauty around me and see myself in others. Through pausing and meditation I carry less with me into new situations. Living more in the present has given a great sense of freedom and peace.
The pandemic has been really challenging, but it has also presented countless opportunities. I had just retired from the fire service and started my own adventure travel company. We were taking brave souls on arctic ski tours and across the mountains in Morocco and the Pyrenees.
Although the restrictions meant travel was on hold, it didn’t mean my life was on hold. I took those first weeks of lockdown to reflect deeply and see what changes I really needed to make to live more truthfully. I attended online courses, changed some habits, became sober and focussed on my purpose.
How could I use my experiences and skills to best serve other people in reaching their full potential and help them to lose their self-imposed limits? I understood that developing self-awareness, connection, confidence, self-esteem and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health was key.
I am now looking to collaborate with others and use the Trident adventure model to support better mental health in hard-to-reach groups. Delivering immersive, challenging wilderness experiences for vulnerable groups of young people, those in recovery from addictions, veterans and former emergency service personnel. With the backdrop of a challenging adventure to focus on we will introduce stress management techniques, improve awareness, personal leadership and build a self-perpetuating community, connecting through social media.
My experience is that travel broadens the mind and widens your perspective. During these trips, there are moments when people’s faces light up. They realise that all the effort has been worth it, and that great effort brings the greatest reward. There’s an appreciation of the value of the moment, surrounded by the beauty in nature and away from distraction they get that true sense of who they really are.
If I ever had a purpose in life this is it.
Trident participant: “The trip was challenging but very rewarding. A few surprises were thrown in along the way which you won’t experience with a run of the mill organisation. If you’re looking for something a bit different that’s going to challenge you while being supported by a great team then look no further.”
Visit Nick’s website: Trident Adventure
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