Able editor Tom Jamison met ParalympicsGB cyclist Karen Darke.
Can I take you back to a moment that will be familiar to lots of our readers. You’d already won a silver medal in the road time-trial at London – you crossed the line holding hands with Rachel Morris. Any regrets?
No, I don’t think that. It was a momentary decision to do that . I think really it was based on There are things relating to that that no one else knows about or needs to know about . It was a good decision and the right decision and I’m happy with it. I know it upset a lot of people at the time most of the men in my life were pretty angry and said that I should have ridden on and tried to win the medal.It generated a lot of response and a lot of emotion amongst people and just afterwards I kind of wobbled a little bit if I’d made the right decision but no, I’m happy with it and I’ve never regretted it.
Away from sport, you’re a proper adventurer. What have been the toughest challenges you’ve set yourself?
I’m currently a full-time athlete with the British Para-Cycling Team but I try to squeeze adventures in where possible between training and other work, like cycling in the tough league.
It’s a different kind of tough really. I feel a bit conflicted between my job as a professional athlete and what I love to do in terms of as an adventurer. It would seem that that they should go hand-in-hand and in some ways they do but in many ways they don’t because as an athlete you have to be on a training schedule and doing something very specific every day and you can’t disappear off on a kayak for a month so it’ll limit what I can do in terms of adventures quite significantly but at the same time on a day-to-day basis it gives me the opportunity to do something that I love rather than sitting in an office so there’s a balance I think.
In terms of toughness, I guess they’re very different types of tough. An adventure is much tougher in many ways because you’re out in the wilderness living with different challenges for however long it is not knowing where your food is going to come from.
With the training it’s tougher in terms of the intensity just pushing your heart rate and your body to the limits of what you can do which is less common on an adventure. But also just in terms of balancing it with daily life and all of the things you need to do as an athlete. It’s tough in a different kind of way, like making decisions as an athlete and also the right thing as a human being with friends and family. It’s not such a raw hardship where it’s that food and drink and survival with the basis of life but it’s tough in a living a more enduring day-to-day sort of way. Adventure’s got a time limit. You know you’re only there for six weeks or two months or whatever. There’s a beginning and an end whereas with this it’s constant – you’re training and there’s always a goal and a challenge that you’re working towards.
Your disability was acquired through adventure. Where did you find the strength not to turn your back on it all?
I think its just how I’m wired. I love nature I love the wilderness, fresh air and intense experience. In nature and in the wild with friends and what you learn about each other and about yourself and how you support each other. I like the raw wilderness experience where you’re just away from all of the crap of everyday life. We’ve constructed this world that we live in and it’s real but it’s not real in many ways, whereas when you get back into nature it’s about, maybe it takes us back to caveman – it’s you and nature – foraging for your food and its about the basic elements of survival and there’s something quite refreshing about working with that from time-to-time.
I know its Paralympic year but do you have any further adventures in mind?
Of course. I‘ve got a big one in the pipeline but it’s too big to talk about right now. I’m still at the stage where I’m quite intimidated by it so I’m not even talking about it yet. You now that way when like as soon as you start telling too many people it makes you more committed. It’s that kind of stage
I thought it would be that you didn’t want people at ParalympicsGB thinking you weren’t focused on Rio etc?
I don’t really care what they think. I also need to focus on life beyond Rio to some extent as well.
What are the markers towards Rio from now?
There’s really only one big race. It’s a world cup race in May in Belgium and that’s the official selection race for Rio.
With an MA in development training and diplomas in performance coaching. You might be well placed to talk about what makes success. What do you advise?
I don’t really pass any advice on unless people come to me wanting support. I don’t profess to tell people to do in any way or to be an expert. Generally my outlook is one where you have to remain positive and when you have setbacks you have to focus on the step by step process of getting back again. I’ve had a lt of setbacks myself in the last year. I got run over by a car, a relationship broke up and I had an operation in October and every single setback, particularly the physical setbacks, I worry that I’m never going to get y form back. As recently as October I didn’t know if my Rio hopes were over because it was an operation that kept me out for a couple of months. You just have to keep trying and believing and if your teammates are having some kind of problem I just try to support them in a positive way and tell them to keep trying and working and usually, when you’re passion about something and you put the effort and the commitment in and then usually good things happen.
Different approach. Bombastic – never ever doubt. Realistic – do relate to it… How am I going to get out of bed today?
For me it’s very much like that every day. I’m not saying that I wake up in pain every day but what I mean is life – you don’t just have it 100% feeling amazing or confident all the time. There are doubts, uncertainties, and setbacks. You’ve just got to keep going on days that are harder or when your mind is not so positive – I just make myself go through the motions or I maybe give myself a day’s rest t o calm down and recover. I’ve kind of got better over the years of listening to my body and what it’s telling me instead of trying to do everything that my head wants it to do. Sometimes you’ve got to work with your body and sometimes you might not be able to do a training session one day but then on the next you do the most amazing thing you’ve ever done, it just depends.