Karen was a 21-year-old adventurous British runner, orienteer and adventurer who suffered a 10 meter fall while rock-climbing in the mountains near her home. She woke up four days later in a hospital and was told that she was paralyzed. She had no feeling or muscle movement from just below her shoulders. She spent the next six months in the hospital and in rehabilitation. Just days before her fall she was talking to someone she had met who had become paralyzed. Karen recalls telling this person she would rather be dead than to be in that situation. How ironic her life changed so quickly.
Karen was fortunate in that during her rehabilitation in the hospital she was surrounded by posters encouraging her and others not to allow their physical limitations to control her life. he was also introduced to an organization named Back Up which supported her determination to fully engage in life. Through them she was introduced to similarly paralyzed people living full and active adventurous lives.
Karen is another person who suffered a dramatic life-changing event who refused to allow it to define her. She’s now in her mid-40s and has been described as the strongest adventure athlete you’ve never met. What she has accomplished during the intervening 20 years would be considered unbelievable to the average person, perhaps even to a dedicated cyclist.
Rather than focus on the things she was no longer able to do, Karen began to focus on what she could do. She has continued to expand what is possible. Karen adapted to hand cycling and went on to compete on the British para-cycling team in the 2012 Paralympic Games where she finished with a silver medal. She was the champion in the 2016 Paralympics at Rio. She continues to race full-time for the British para-cycling team. And there’s more!
Karen has hand biked across the Himalayas and the length of Japan. She has traversed 1250 km through the wilderness of Chile. She has kayaked from Canada to Alaska and completed a 500 mile sit ski across Greenland in frigid conditions. She has returned to climbing and has ascended El Capitan.
It’s fascinating to me to hear Karen described her paralysis as a unique gift which has afforded her a life she would have never experienced otherwise. She believes and has lived the philosophy that each of us is capable of so much more in our life than we challenge ourselves to accomplish. Too many of us accept mediocrity. What we can actually do is quite amazing. Karen has been quoted as saying “I would rather try and fail than never try and never know.”
You can see Karen’s amazing story on her website and on YouTube.