Former British servicemen, David Wiseman and Nathan Jones, have co-founded Peak State to destigmatise the subject of mental health and change the traditional messaging around it
Nathan, in 2014, a routine flight you were flying resulted in a horrific incident. What happened that day? JONES:
I was flying a Voyager aircraft, an Airbus A330, from the RAF Brize Norton station to Helmand Province in Afghanistan. We were in cruise mode, flying at 33,000 feet when I decided to exit the cockpit and take a break. While I was having a cup of tea, the next thing I knew was that I was pinned to the roof. I realised we were plummeting into the sea. I had to crawl on the roof, pull myself down to my seat, and then activate a button that gave me priority on my controls [to take over the aircraft]. What happened is that the captain – I was the co-pilot at the time – was taking photos of the stars with an SLR camera and got his camera jammed at the controls. So, he moved his seat forward and it knocked the autopilot out, jamming the stick all the way forward. He was there thinking the autopilot was stuck, but instead, it was the camera jamming the controls.
I was severely injured from ramming into the roof. I split the back of my head open and broke my back. From 2014, I was full-time in the defence medical rehab centre, recovering from both physical and mental injuries.
David, you still have a bullet in your chest from an incident in Afghanistan. Tell us about that. WISEMAN:
I was an officer in the British Army in the infantry unit. It was my second tour in Afghanistan. I previously served in Baghdad. I was embedded with the Afghan National Army, with a small specialised team of nine British soldiers with me.
I was in Helmand Province in 2009, and it was a terrible year for us. Over two weeks, at the back end of October and November, we dealt with 25 different casualties. On November 15th, 2009, I became the 26th casualty.
We had fought the Taliban off an area and had to push them back a little bit further that day. As we crossed into the next tactical bound, we were engaged by a position, where I didn’t have cover. Essentially, an enemy sniper got us in the end. One round zipped past my head and it sounded like someone had cracked a whip, and soon after, I heard the sound of the weapon firing. That one went past my head. I didn’t react quickly enough because the second one slammed into my chest. The bullet hit just below my clavicle, travelled down the length of my torso, nicking my axial artery on the way, smashing through my brachial plexus and then shredding through my lung. It shattered my ribs and came to rest in my right lung where it still sits today.
My chest was filling with blood and [my team] kept me alive for long enough until an American chopper landed to take me away. In fact, I stopped breathing three times, waiting on the ground. I was moved to the back of the chopper; as they strapped me down, I stopped breathing again. That’s when [the paramedic] took out a blade and cut into my chest without an anaesthetic and [inserted a tube]. All that blood seeped out onto the floor of the helicopter, and I could finally breathe again.
I spent a week in intensive care in Birmingham. I left the Army in 2013 after several years in and out of the fantastic Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court.
You’ve both participated in many Invictus Games. What are some of the most heroic stories you’ve come across? JONES:
The guy who really stands out is our very good friend, Dr. David Henson. He lost both his legs to an IED. He came back from that and discovered sport, becoming a fantastic sprinter with the aid of his prosthetic legs. He then captained the British Invictus team in 2014 and went on to win a bronze medal at the Paralympics in Rio 2016. He then got a PhD in biomechanics, as he wants to develop a new prosthesis for the next generation. He and I have co-founded the CASEVAC club, a private member’s club for wounded soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Together, we are influencing and advancing the understanding of trauma.
The two of you also co-founded Peak State. How did that happen and what are some of its objectives? WISEMAN:
After I left the army, I went to work for Prince Harry and Prince William at The Royal Foundation. I was advising
them on their philanthropic involvement with supporting those who serve. There were lots of different programmes over the years, and mental health was interwoven in a lot of those programmes. But the message with mental health has always been from a negative angle. It’s always been discussing depression, anxiety or trauma – and that really isn’t the whole story. There’s the other spectrum about it, promoting the management of good mental health. And Peak State essentially focuses on that thinking.
Peak State is a collection of tools and techniques that we’ve taken from across the world of sports psychology to influence and help people adopt a proactive approach to the better management of mental health.
JONES: I went to university to do sports science, and sports psychology was a big part of it. When you say that your mind is the most important muscle in your body, it couldn’t be more relevant now with what we’re doing with Peak State. The issue with all these learnings are that the marginal gains of sports psychology are only being afforded to professional and elite athletes. It’s not really being spoken about among the general public and those who arguably need it the most.
What we’re trying to do is destigmatise the conversation around mental health. We’re giving people the option to do so through a library of tools and techniques, and we understand that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. We’ve packaged something, knowing that everyone stays on this spectrum of mental health – whether they’re an elite sportsperson, biohacker, or if even if they’ve never focused on it before – and we help them with tools such as breathwork to activate their parasympathetic nervous system, sleep nutrition and nutrition. We help them develop their knowledge to use these daily to become higher-performing individuals.
By doing so, they’re putting on different bits of armour. So, if something does arise, and they get stressed or anxious, they have these tools in their arsenal as coping mechanisms. Why send a soldier into battle without the armour just because you know that there’s going to be someone with a plaster at the other end to fix that wound?
You were at the Expo 2020 recently. What are some of the discussions you’ve had here in the UAE on the subject of mental health?
JONES: We had a fantastic lecture at the Dubai Exhibition Center at RewirEd. I think people [here] are open to this idea of mental fitness.
I think what we’re offering with Peak State is exciting and isn’t just for elite athletes. It isn’t just for executive coaching. It is for everybody. We’ve got programmes running in Australia, the US, and are about to launch in Greece. We would love to do something in this region.
JONES: The reason why we’re here is that we created this bespoke content for different communities. It’s pointless for someone here in the UAE, for example, to watch a video that was created for Australian communities. So, we create content that is bespoke for a community, region, or nationality.
One of the areas that we’re now working on is youth empowerment. We’ve spoken at COP26 and a string of conferences on this subject.
What can we expect from you in 2022?
WISEMAN: If we could get our tools and techniques into the schools in this region, we’re going to have some extraordinary young people becoming adults. There’s this climate of anxiety. The youth are our future leaders, so you need to get this in place now – otherwise, you’re just putting bandages in the future. In 2022, what we would like to do in this region is for Peak State tools to be inserted into the UK personal, social, health and economic school curriculum, supported by our app, which is coming out this year.
When you have brands such as Bremont backing initiatives like Peak State, how does that help further your cause?
WISEMAN: You know, people might think that Bremont makes luxury watches, so what’s that got to do with [Peak State]? Well, it is about values and a crossover of those values. We see that their adventurous, forward-thinking and progressive spirit is exactly what’s needed, and that’s the kind of crossover we’re looking at with Peak State. Bremont’s tagline is ‘Tested Beyond Endurance’. And if you have these Peak State tools, you can actually be tested beyond endurance.
JONES: Bremont is our official timing partner. We have partnered with a variety of health tech companies and firms such as Iris, who make the audio software that goes into the headsets for Red Bull Racing. Max Verstappen’s helmet and Christian Horner’s headset have the same audio software that goes into Peak State. Iris creates dimensional soundscapes for us. We’ve partnered with world-leading companies to bridge the gaps and legitimise what we’re doing. It gives the general public access to the marginal gains of elite athletes.