Paraplegic adventurer and athlete who has pursued an ambitious programme of challenges with remarkable determination.
Karen Darke is an extraordinary human being, and a woman who has touched the lives of many through her spirit for adventure. A keen runner and mountaineer, she was paralysed in a rock-climbing accident on a Scottish sea cliff at the age of twenty-one. Facing a life in a wheelchair, Karen chose to fight preconceived ideas of just what was possible for someone who could feel nothing below their chest.
In 1997, just four years after her accident, Karen crossed the Tien Shan and Karakoram mountains of Central Asia on a hand bike, raising £12,000 for charity. This amazing achievement was to be the first of many adventures which would see Karen hand cycle the length of the Japanese archipelago, sea kayak a 1200 mile length of the Canada – Alaska coastline, cross the Indian Himalaya by hand cycle and ski the Valle Blanche in the Alps.
In 2006 Karen made a record-breaking 600 kilometre crossing of the Greenland ice cap on a sit-ski, a month long journey across one the world’s last great expanses of wilderness, where winds can reach 200 miles per hour and temperatures drop below 40 degrees. In 2007, Karen made the bold decision to return to the rock face, climbing to the summit of the mighty El Capitan in Yosemite after pulling her own body up using just her arms in over 4000 pull-ups.
Just one of these challenges is more than most of us will attempt in our lifetime. Yet Karen currently has her sights set on a new challenge. She has been selected for GB's 2011 Para-Cycling Team which will be competing hard next year aiming to qualify for the 2012 Paralympic Games.
Karen has gained recognition as one of the UKs most inspirational women, chosen as Cosmopolitan's Ultimate Fearless Female in 2009 and Vitalise Woman of Achievement in 2010.
Modest and thoughtful, Karen is a highly sought after motivational speaker. She applies her experiences from her expeditions and her expertise developed whilst working for Shell (where she worked in HR in their European Learning & Development team – co-ordinating mentoring, coaching, personal and team development) to give inspiring presentations to corporate clients and school children alike.
"Everyone really enjoyed Karen's presentation. She was a very inspiring person to listen to. I have had a lot of comments about how much everyone enjoyed the presentation! Thank you very much for all your help with organising this. " RSA's Affinity Partner Event - January 2012