Karen Darke MBE.

People talk a lot about the mental aspect of endurance sport. The will power, the resilience, the determination. Paralympic gold medalist Karen Darke MBE is a luminous example of how the right mindset can shape your entire life.

The mindset of a champion.

Karen was a keen runner. An adventurer. An explorer. Aged 21 she fell off a cliff, broke her back and was left paralysed. It was a brutal, lifechanging accident. Yet just four years later Karen handbiked across the Himalayas along the Central Asia Silk Road. It was the first milestone on what has become a remarkable list of endurance accomplishments. 

Karen’s achievements are too many, too numerous, to mention here. Yet even a snapshot inspires awe. In 2000 she handbiked the length of Japan, in 2003 she kayaked from Vancouver to Alaska, in 2006 she sit-skied the Greenland icecap. Then in 2007 she returned to the mountains and climbed El Capitan. 

In the competitive arena Karen represented Team GB in the 2012 London Paralympics, winning silver in the handcycling time trial. Four years later in Rio she went one better to bring home the gold medal. Karen was named the World Paratriathlon Champion in 2009 and again in 2012. In 2014 she became the European Paratriathlon Champion.

Yet perhaps most remarkable of all is Karen’s mindset. She is a firm believer in the potential of the self. The capacity inherent in all of us to shape our own lives, design our world and become exactly who we want to be. It’s not about trite aphorisms like where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s far deeper than that. A genuine and unswerving belief that life really is what you make it – and we are the guardians of our own destiny.

That’s something worth celebrating.