Going Solo

By Mike Weeks

May 13, 20196 Minutes

I was walking alone in an internally displaced people camp in Haiti. I had timed my travel poorly and found myself caught on the wrong side of the UN security fence as darkness rushed into camp.

Only a few hundred metres from the safety of the checkpoint, I learned that a rusty revolver is a terrifying object when pointed by a falsely smiling stranger and his two friends. It’s even worse when accompanied with the demanding question, ‘What you got for me?’


I was a professional free climber and extreme sports coach before I began working with Police, Firefighters and Special Forces soldiers. On the surface of it, working in the world of maverick extreme sports athletes and then with law enforcement officers, couldn’t be any more different. However below the surface , the differences are surprisingly minimal. Hundreds, maybe thousands of feet off of the ground, the free climber has to make life and death decisions with absolute clarity.


He or she needs to ensure that they can deal with the perception of danger and stress while operating effectively in spite of the pressure of the situation. In the moment of moving fingers and toes between quarter-inch edges, the potential for slipping is always present. Only pure focus and control of one’s ‘state’ will ensure a consistently safe arrival at the destination.


Responding effectively with extreme life or death pressure of any kind requires a similar approach to that of a free climber: full body awareness, prediction of actions and consequences, clear thinking and most important of all, optimal choice of state prior to acting. Frontline Mind was created to ensure that everyone operating in high-pressure environments is trained in techniques that will consistently ensure that the mountaintop – be it real or metaphorical – is always arrived at. Today’s law enforcement and correctional officers are rarely credited with needing the resilience of elite athletes.


And yet, while the athlete performs for a short period in any given day, the officer is under pressure consistently, day after day after day. Training in resilience and peak-performance should be an essential part of every law and correctional officer’s training, even more than the free climber’s. Despite an immediate reaction of wanting to curl up in a ball and/or scream for help, in that moment when I looked down the barrel of a gun, my climbing training kicked in. In that split second, I breathed more deeply, scanned my body for tension and assessed my likely options for escape.


In the moment of calm that arose, I experienced clarity. I slowly reached into my pocket and pulled out the only thing I had to give to the gun-wielding stranger. Hovering my closed hand over his, as he opened his hand palm up, I dropped a toffee into it, and then I let out a genuine release of laughter. Luckily both his friends appreciated the humour of the moment and burst into laughter, playfully bro barging him with their shoulders as he looked me up and down in bemusement before telliing me to ‘get the f*** out of here’.

Mike Weeks

Is the co-founder of Frontline Mind. He travelled the world for ten years as a climber before becoming a trainer and neurocoach for elite sports people. Since 2010 his main focus has been resilience and recovery, in which he’s worked with people from Special Forces, Firefighters, Police, medical teams and many people living in third world poverty.