Karen Darke was a keen runner, climber and all round outdoor addict who climbed Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn by the age of 21. Then on a climbing expedition in Scotland in 1992 Karen fell off a cliff, severing her spinal chord paralysing her from the chest down.
Just the night before her accident she said she would rather die than be paralysed, but little did she know what lay ahead. Instead she found fortune in her misfortune, inspiration from people in similar and more challenging situations, and began pursuing alternative ways to access the outdoors. Not being able to move or feel anything below her chest level has of course been a challenge, but Karen learned that nothing is impossible if you set your mind and efforts to it.
Since her accident Karen Darke has had to challenge her own physical and mental barriers, completing many incredible feats that others including herself believed impossible; from marathons, triathlons, kayaking, sit-skiing and hand-cycling, in some of the most inhospitable places on the planet.
In 1997 Karen hand-biked over the Himalaya, a 1400 km journey from Kyrgyzstan to Pakistan. Three years later she hand-biked the 2000km length of Japan, with 80% being mountainous. In 2003 Karen kayaked the “Inside Passage” to Alaska and in 2006 she sit-skied 600km across Greenland to become the first person in a wheel chair to complete this journey.
Following so many inspirational achievements Karen decided whilst watching the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games that her next challenge would be to compete at the London 2012 Games. She immediately turned her focus to racing a hand-bike and although she was initially shunned by British Cycling they soon realised the error of their ways and after some impressive performances the GB Coaches invited her to join the GB Para-Cycling Team in December 2010.
In September 2011 Karen achieved a bronze medal in the Para-cycling World Championships in Denmark, securing her place at the London 2012 Paralympic Games - where she went on to win Silver in the women's H1-2 cycling time trial.
Karen Darke is an experienced and accomplished inspirational and motivational speaker who has inspired audiences in organisations and businesses around the globe. Her story is inspiring and energising. Modest and thoughtful, Karen is highly sought-after and her stories inspire everyone who reflects on what it took to achieve them.
Speech themes and topics
“The thing my disability and ensuing adventures makes me most obviously qualified to talk about is ‘overcoming challenge' but my experiences also allow me to talk about motivation, change, achievement, teams work, leadership, diversity and inclusivity, risk....
How do we overcome challenges?
Why is it that some of us are fortunate enough to fall down, pick ourselves up, brush off the dust and go again, whilst others let it stop them?
Through my personal experiences, adventures and some ongoing research with others who have tackled great challenge, I enjoy sharing some understanding as to how we can learn from the difficult stuff, and use it to do the positive stuff. How we turn things around, no matter how difficult or seemingly impossible they may seem.
If we can know ourselves better, we can explore our abilities, and achieve all manner of things we may previously have thought impossible.“
Karen Darke is very modest about what she has achieved since her accident. Her gentle manner means she is able to inspire and motivate others. Her can do approach is infectious. You touched many people and were simply inspirational.
Just meeting Karen Darke is an uplifting experience at a personal level, her passion and enthusiasm are bound to rub off on anyone who works with her. She is a natural communicator & coach, working equally effectively one to one, with small teams and in large group situations. I admire the way Karen has turned life changing personal difficulties into positive opportunities and ever stretching challenges. She changed her career from being a highly regarded technical specialist to becoming a coach, mentor and life long learning adviser and a champion for diversity in a very non-diverse multi national organisation.
I just wanted to offer my thanks for delivering what was an excellent speech and one which left myself and, judging by the comments afterwards, others, feeling in awe, motivated and inspired by your achievements.
I am writing to say a massive thank you for agreeing to speak at our conference dinner and for delivering one of the most inspirational and moving presentations I have ever heard - and I am not alone in thinking that! The feedback has been outstanding. Thank you so much and I hope that I will get the opportunity to hear you speak again and to see you compete in the Paralympics.
Just to say a big thank you - the team thought it was a great day and your presentation was extremely inspiring. You'll be pleased to hear following your visit everyone is going great guns, targets so far are being smashed, so we're climbing our mountain nicely. Thank you!
Karen's captivating story shines a bright light on the meaning of challenge, and on the limitless capabilities of the human spirit.
Thank you so much for contributing so much to the success of the conference. Your session 'Challenge or Obstacle?' provided exactly what we needed and frequent comments from delegate feedback was 'motivational'; 'hugely inspiring'; 'truly inspirational'. May I wish you success in your next challenge.
I started with your presentation by thinking “I wonder how this will relate to Human Resource Management?”, and ended it thinking “That's one of the most important and inspiring things I've ever heard”! My philosophy on training events and conferences is that if there is only one good thing I can take away from it, it will have been worthwhile. Your presentation was definitely the one thing that had a big impact on me, and I have been thinking about it ever since. I will definitely be using it at work from now on.
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