KEVIN Toonen describes the elite soldiers of Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) calmly as the desirable “A-type personalities” or “complete humans”.
What he’s calling them are freaks. After 18 years in the military and eight years of driving Australia’s elite soldiers to push their bodies through unimaginable pain, Toonen, a high-performance coach of the SASR Training Centre, is desensitised to the incredible feats of human athletic performance he witnesses, but this writer can assure you, hearing the details of his experiences in the special forces is truly shocking and inspiring. The SASR selection trial and its ability to break even the strongest members of the Australian military is widely known.
Toonen’s own experiences with the famous three-week selection trial can only leave you with absolute astonishment when considering the skills and mental strength of the lucky few that are accepted into the regiment. The trial is hell on earth. You only need to look at the toll the final days of the selection trial have on the human body to realise Australia’s special forces units are freakish human beings. “In the last five days of the trial the average soldier will lose 10-15kg,” Toonen tells news.com.au.The majority of soldiers that are accepted into the trial have already been forced to excel in a long list of mental, physical and emotional tests — as well as have an outstanding resume of their time in the field. Most weigh in at around 80kg at the start of the trial and leave after dropping to 65kg in the final days of the trial. “I can tell you that in three weeks of the Tour de France they don’t lose that much weight. It will take them months and months to recover.
“By the time you get to the last seven days, these guys aren’t eating very much. They aren’t sleeping very much and they’re using a ridiculous amount of physical energy.” It is brutal, uncompromising and designed to push soldiers beyond the darkest place they can imagine. It is only the elite of the elite that are allowed to take part in the selection trial and of that only around 15 per cent finish with the full approval of supervisors. Even fewer still are accepted. “Lot’s of guys finish the course as well and are still standing at the end, but there’s still a good chance you won’t be selected,” Toonen said. “Sometimes it’s a physical attribute, but most of the time it’s a mental attribute or an emotional attribute that we don’t like.” It’s almost always mental or emotional. It is only a special breed of human being capable of withstanding the cruel hurdles of the selection trial — and their physical frame has very little to do with it. They are simply the most strongest-willed humans you can imagine.
Unbreakable. “I’ve seen broken backs, broken necks. I’ve seen multiple fractures all through the body, and this is just in training,” Toonen said. “They have no excuses. I’ve seen guys that have fallen out of helicopters and bounced back up. “I’ve seen the smallest, most unassuming guy put up with the untold amount of pain. We’ve carted people off dunes crawling on their hands and knees not knowing what day it is. We’ve had people fall asleep on their feet numerous times. There are guys that complete the selection course with broken bones with most of the bottom Kevin Toonen: SASR special forces performance coach reveals selection trial reality of their feet missing from blisters.” Toonen’s ability to look after the soldiers while also pushing them to the edge of their sanity is why he remains a performance coach with the SASR Training Centre, despite recently leaving his full-time post in the special forces command to start-up his strength and conditioning business.
The founder of Strength Elite, a gym in Darlinghurst, Sydney, which is owned by Hollywood star Russell Crowe, develops fitness, strength and conditioning programs for clients designed to simulate the crazy-intensity training programs he designed for Australia’s special forces soldiers. It’s why he was selected as a Body Science ambassador to help provide expert strength and conditioning training advice for regular weekend warriors considering signing up for the 14km City to Surf run in Sydney. His advice is not easy to hear for anyone uncomfortable pushing themselves. He says almost anyone should be able to complete the 14km fun run after an eight-week training course — it just depends on how committed to the cause you might be. He doesn’t accept excuses and that’s part of what has made his Strength Elite gym such a success. It can’t be easy to complain or give up on training when your trainer has seen people run long distances on broken legs.