Episode 51: Karen Darke

“It’s important to let the emotion and the grief out but it's equally important to get on with it and get out there and do new things, even though you’re hurting inside. Focus on what you do have, not what you don’t” Karen Darke

Paralympic athlete, adventurer, performance coach, author, hypnotherapist, massage therapist, perpetual student and inquirer. Karen Darke is a lot of things. But not least - more than the headline titles - a driven, resilient, honest and pragmatic soul, and a lover of venturing into the unknown and mysterious.

26 years after the accident on sea cliffs in Aberdeen that paralysed Karen from the chest down, she has climbed El Capitan, sit-skied across Greenland, won a gold in the Rio Paralympics and taken herself off on adventure after adventure.

Karen has been a hero of mine for years and it was a tiny bit surreal talking to her. She’s been on my guest wishlist since the idea for the podcast first sparked in my mind. I devoured her two initial books – If You Fall and Boundless – years ago, saw her speak at Edinburgh Mountain Festival and she’s remained a very real figure of inspiration regularly in mind. I caught her just after finishing the Camino de Santiago and World Championships, and from her winter home in Majorca to the studio in Edinburgh we got into a conversation on:

  • What home means

  • Difficult experiences in Rio and getting injured in the immediate weeks before

  • Recently being dropped from the British Cycling team

  • The highs and lows of her decade of being on the team and competing in World Championships and Olympics

  • Experiences with a spiritual guide healer in Brazil

  • Her vast knowledge in sports psychology for competing

  • Studies into hypnotherapy and applying the techniques in real-time on her monster El Capitan climb in Yosemite

  • Memories from the climbing accident, the process of grief and acceptance and the many gifts of trauma and challenge that we often overlook.

For me, it’s not the fact Karen has shaped herself into a high-achieving adventurer that inspires me so deeply, but her general approach to life; her curiosity, love of experience and attitude to learning. Karen has studied healing, Chinese medicine, massage, reflexology, counselling, psychology and hypnotherapy. She expands her mind and pushes her body in a multitude of ways, not just through safe adventures repeated. She faces fears with the FEAR acronym front of mind - False Expectations Appearing Real – and just gets on with it, dealing with problems as they come up. Self-sufficiency embodied.

Thanks Karen for saying yes and talking to our little community here.

Folks, have you checked out Patreon yet? In the next week or so I’ll be posting the second installment of my Behind the Mic series, and if you sign up as a Patron you’ll not only get access to this but to part one and all the chat too. Plus a super special Christmas book competition coming up next week!

Check out the resources below from Karen – especially her unmissable books charting her trajectory from accident and paralysis to global adventurer. The episode is available for download in all the usual places from Friday 8am GMT.

Thanks for tuning into series five! It’s been a joy to share these stories. Back soon!

Show notes

Karen’s website

Adventure Syndicate

Karen on Twitter

Karen on Instagram

If You Fall


Quest 79

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