The Karen Darke story continued…
The journey to her first Paralympic Games and some Quest 79 inspiration…
My first big dream when lying in a hospital bed staring at the ceiling waiting for my spine to heal, was about how I might be able to visit the Himalayan mountains. The world’s biggest mountain range has always captivated me, and my friends had put a poster of these mountains on the ceiling above my bed to try and make my view more inspiring than polystyrene tiles. At first, I just felt sad that I couldn’t go to such beautiful places anymore, but then I started to think ‘Why not?!’
So, a few years later, stronger and ready for an adventure, I began creating. I had a special tandem bike made – three wheels, pedalling with my arms on the front, and a friend pedalling with legs on the back. We trained for the Himalayas in the Scottish islands – the mountains nowhere near as big as where we were going, but we were getting fitter for the adventure ahead. We had six weeks to cross from the country of Kazakhstan, via Kyrgystan, into China and then across the high mountains into norther Pakistan. We would be independent and unsupported, and of course I had plenty of fears. How would we carry my wheelchair? What if there was a medical problem? Would we find enough food and water in the wilderness?
Luckily, I’ve always believed in having big dreams and believing they can come true. When we finally cycled across the Himalaya, it was an incredible journey. For me personally, it was like a ‘rite of passage’: a journey that made me realise that my world was not really limited by being in a wheelchair. Our ability to do anything is a state of mind not a state of body. We have to focus on what we can do; not on what we can’t. And focus on feeling grateful for all the good things we all have in our life, regardless of how difficult external circumstances can seem at times.
Years later, I had a dream of not sitting in an office all day doing a job I wasn’t very happy in. I dreamt of being a full-time adventurer and athlete. Little did I know that 15 years after my accident I would suddenly get excited about the idea of trying to get to my first Paralympic Games in London. I had never had any interest in any Paralympic sport but suddenly hand-cycling was included. Hand-cycling gets me excited.
Rather than give you a long story of how I got to the Games in London and won a silver medal – way beyond all my wildest expectations – I will share with you instead a few ways that help me when I’m working towards a big goal or dream.
(1) If I’m tempted to miss a training session (because I’m too tired, or too busy, or just because I can’t be bothered one day), I think of my ‘future self’. How disappointed would I feel if I woke up the next day and knew I’d not done what I should have? How disappointed would I be to get to the start line of an Olympic race and think I could have tried harder in training to race my best? I’d be letting myself down. And so, I always begin, and enjoy that commitment. Sometimes though, if I know my body is really tired from training hard, I abandon the session and come home – but I feel good about it because I know that I tried.
(2) I always remember the saying ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.’ The first two races I ever did I was last in them. Often my result in a race hasn’t been what I hoped it would be, or what I knew I was capable of. Instead of getting fed up, I feel disappointed for a little bit, then ask ‘what did I learn from that and how can that help me next time?’. There is no such thing as failure – only feedback.
(3) I try to be patient. Sometimes we get better at things quickly. Sometimes it takes some time. But if we keep trying, a little bit every day, then we are bound to make progress towards our goal.
(4) Sometimes I think my goal (to win a Gold medal in the Paralympics) is possible, and sometimes I think it’s too crazy. I try to focus on it coming true and do some visualisation to help me. (I close my eyes, imagine a time when I’ve raced really well or felt really good, and then try to imagine feeling like that again in the future). The more we imagine our goal coming true, the more it is likely to happen.
(5) Remember not to be too hard on yourself. ‘Work hard and play hard’. There is a time to give something your all, but you also need to take time out, rest and have some fun. Otherwise, you will get bored!
Good luck with all the things you are working towards. I hope you achieve them, and if you have any tips you can share with me, thank you for sharing them!